CFF 2024: CANVAS is a Sordidly Sweet Slice of Psychological Melodrama

Canvas is an intriguing exploration of a rather intense sibling rivalry by way of the art world, that I caught virtually at The Chattanooga Film Festival. The film is the feature length directorial debut of Melora Donoghue and Kimberly Stuckwisch and follows two sisters, Eve (Joanne Kelly) an ex-art prodigy who was once lauded by her art critic father and Marissa (Bridget Regan) who while lacking in talent, connivingly leveraged the family name and controversy to carve out a following for her work over the years. When we meet Marissa she is broke, down on her luck and looking to replenish her inheritance she’s squandered, thanks to a few divorces and some poor life choices. She hopes to do this by way of three Janet Visser paintings in the family home worth about $25 million apiece. But the paintings and her family home are the property of her sister, who thanks to some unresolved trauma has been living like a hermit.

Marissa soon devises a scheme to have her sister committed to gain ownership of the paintings, and while this is diabolical, it’s also totally believable. As this all plays out, we see the source of this trauma: their extremely toxic critic father, who pushed his daughters purposefully over the edge, since he believed the best art is born of suffering. While the film flashes back and forth between their perspectives to fill the audience in on what brought the sisters to where they are today, it’s a tense battle of wills for the 90 minute runtime on who will end up with the paintings and their sanity. While the film does lean a bit hard into the melodramatic, there’s a sad truth at the heart of the matter of the toxicity of family portrayed here. 

Canvas was an impulse watch on the Chattanooga Film Festival’s digital platform that definitely paid off. The performances were unhinged in the best possible way, and this only helped hook me further into the film’s narrative that had some striking reveals as we slowly pulled the layers of trauma away. Canvas felt like an R-Rated Lifetime movie, and I mean that in the best way possible. I mean, it travels in more than a few tropes the channel’s films are famous for: the successful city girl who comes back to the small town she grew up in, the rich family harboring a dark secret, a wicked sister and the well intentioned ex-boyfriend who stayed in the small town squandering his potential. That being said, Canvas is a delightfully sordid helping of melodrama that surprised me at every turn and I can’t recommend it enough.  

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