Tim's Vermeer ★★★★

This story of an obsessed inventor is an all-around impressive one. Tim Jenison is a captivating specimen with an incredible ambition and intriguing sensibilities. And, told through the voice of Penn & Teller, the arc of his successes and failures to paint an exacting Vermeer with no training or interest in actual artistic craftsmanship is truly a joy to watch. It’s funny, it’s startling, and it’s a little bit beyond the threshold of crazy.

Technically, it’s far from a perfect film. A lot of it feels cobbled together, probably due to the five-year start-and-stop run of its story, with bits and pieces filmed ad hoc and others meticulously framed and beautifully captured. Far too often an interview is painfully out of focus, and it’s a shame to see a few of the film’s crucial moments captured on anything other than the RED camera (which the majority of the film is shot in). The sessions with experts (Steadman and Hockney) lack a certain amount of necessary energy and gravity, partly because of how these sessions were captured in an ad hoc style, but the trade-off is that they still feel very genuine - an obviously beneficial trait in this type of film - and yet the impact on the film’s main target feels weaker than it should.

The other glaring issue is the pacing of the final “act”, where Tim’s painstaking work becomes a grind. It’s difficult to determine if this pacing is intentional - are we as an audience meant to feel the tedium of his work? Certainly the music isn’t helping, with an otherwise beautiful score becoming a fairly staid motif solely through repetition. But the comedic style and voice of Penn & Teller ring true even through this arduous segment, which they punctuate with hilarious moments where Tim reflects on what he’s doing and comes face to face with his choices.

On the whole, many of the problems I mention above feel inconsequential. The film moves along rapidly at first, and the front two thirds of the film make possibly the most funny, enjoyable documentary you’ll see all year. Gradually, we lose Penn’s narrative voice, which is a bit of a bummer, but we come to know Tim through his tedious efforts and that’s ultimately an incredibly rewarding experience. The amount of work that goes into his undertaking is unbelievable, and the demonstration of Tim’s techniques and inventiveness is a lot of fun to watch.

For sake of spoilers, I’ve avoided actually commenting on whether or not Tim succeeds in his ambitions. I will say this, though - there are a few moments of staggering revelation that will certainly make you question the boundaries of art and technology. In these moments, the film soars.