Review: "Tim's Vermeer" Can Only Be Appreciated at a Surface Level

Wesley Emblidge ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Tim Jenison in Tim's Vermeer. Photo Credit: Natalie Jenison / Sony Pictures Classics.
Tim Jenison in Tim’s Vermeer. Photo Credit: Natalie Jenison / Sony Pictures Classics.

Tim Jenison has a goal: to create a perfect replica painting of one of the works of the famous Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Problem is, Tim has only tried painting twice before, and isn’t very good. That’s the basic premise of the documentary Tim’s Vermeer, the first film from the magician team Penn and Teller, with Penn producing and narrating and Teller directing. While the way Tim ends up going about attempting to duplicate Vermeer’s work is fascinating, his obsession and commitment to the project is even more so, yet the documentary spends very little time on it. It’s still compelling, but only on a surface level.

Tim, who made a fortune creating computer softwares, spends his time building things like makeshift airplanes and robot ducks, but he also finds a connection to the art of Vermeer. Through studying the artist’s work experts have come to the idea that Vermeer invented some form of alternative technology for his painting style. Tim calls him “a bit more of a tinkerer” than an artist, and finds something to relate to there. So we follow him figuring out what Vermeer’s techniques were, discovering that he can actually achive them himself, and then embarking on a journey of several years to recreate one particular work, “The Music Lesson.” This includes replicating the room Vermeer would have painted in and making paint out of the same materials, amongst other things.

Tim Jenison in Tim's Vermeer. Photo Credit: Luren Jenison / Sony Pictures Classics.
Tim Jenison in Tim’s Vermeer. Photo Credit: Luren Jenison / Sony Pictures Classics.

While it’s amusing and interesting to watch Tim spend 213 days recreating the exact room Vermeer would have painted in, down to the plastering of the walls and the natural light of the windows, we never fully understand just why he devotes so much of himself to the project. We see him get stressed, cry, consider giving up, but it’s often hard to understand why he doesn’t. Of course we want to see him finish the painting, but his obsession is never fully explained, and as a result the stakes of the whole project feel off. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t hold your attention, the approach Tim devises and the ways he comes up with it are nothing short of incredible, but his ambition would be all the more impressive if you fully understood it.

Overall Grade: B


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