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by Jay Seaver

"It's easy to mock the art scene - and fun!"
4 stars

It is easy to make fun of the art world, especially those on the edge (or fringe, depending on how you feel about it). It's a little harder to do it well; just because something is mockable doesn't mean that the mockery is funny. What "(Untitled)" does that's kind of impressive is to make sport of its eccentric artists while still maintaining some sort of appreciation for them.

Two of these artists are brothers. Josh Jacobs (Eion Bailey) is commercially successful; his works are soothing circle-filled images that hang nicely on lobby walls and in medical practices. His brother Adrian (Adam Goldberg) is a musician whose compositions are harsh and atonal, mostly using unusual sounds, although he has a regular clarinet (Lucy Punch). The date Josh brings to one of Adrian's sparsely-attended performances is Madeline Gray (Marley Shelton), a pretty gallery owner who, unlike nearly everyone else, seems to get what Adrian is going for, and invites him to perform at her gallery, where she's having a new show for Ray Barko (Vinnie Jones), whose work combines absurdity and taxidermy.

Director Jonathan Parker and co-writer Catherine DiNapoli get in a great deal of jokes at their characters' expense, and they are generally pretty good ones. A lot of them are familiar: There's the collector (Zak Orth) who seems to be trying to buy respectability without having any sort of actual taste, and the minimalist (Ptolemy Slocum) whose work is so minimal and manner so affected that he must be pulling off some sort of scam. Barko's works are pure frozen slapstick, while Adrian is deadpan earnest; there is no doubt that he has carefully considered every jarring sound, with that seriousness and disdain for musical convention bleeding over into various disastrous day jobs. Madeline's outfits are bizarre but perhaps calculatedly so. Parker hits the sweet spot with it, though - he doesn't aim to gross the audience out or make them uncomfortable, just get a laugh from how weird it is.

For all the movie is getting laughs at this stuff, though, it's not dismissive. Orth's and Slocum's characters are kind of sad and ridiculous, but there's a certain awkwardness to each of them that engenders a bit of our sympathy. Adrian gets to explain atonal music in a way that makes a certain amount of sense. There's pathos to how Josh wants both commercial success and respect. And Madeline is sometimes delightfully tricky to get a read on; there's a clearly mercenary side to her, but she also seems genuinely excited by art. For a movie that makes hay out of how silly the art world can seem to insiders and outsiders alike, (Untitled) has a fair amount of respect for them.

In some ways, that either holds the movie back or makes it hard to classify. It seldom misses when riffing on the avant garde types, but it takes its characters just seriously enough that it sometimes goes a while between jokes. It dabbles in several potential romantic triangles, but never really commits to making one the main thing to drive the story. I don't mind that, really - it means that (Untitled) doesn't give us whiplash going from comedy to melodrama and back, and lets us believe that what we're seeing go on is exaggerated but not to the point of being unrecognizable.

That atmosphere is sold by a cast that hits the balance Parker is trying to strike between weird and likable. Marley Shelton manages to be the target of jokes without Madeline (mostly) coming off as a either ditz or ice queen. Adam Goldberg works his deadpan drawl to excellent effect; he sells a lot of silly scenes by playing them completely straight. Vinnie Jones works against type, playing a pretentious artist rather than a guy who could explode at any second. Eion Bailey makes Josh a little shallow and oblivious without being pushy about it. Lucy Punch, meanwhile, is adorable and quite frequently manages to serve as the movie's straight man without ever seeming like she doesn't belong among the crazy artists. And I wish Parker and DiNapoli had given Ben Hammer a bigger role - he shows up in one scene toward the end and absolutely owns it as Adrian's musical idol.

"(Untitled)" is a lot like its characters - kind of silly, but basically nice, despite eccentricities. Maybe it could have been sharper satire, but that could have easily backfired, resulting in something not nearly as enjoyable as this movie.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19728&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/17/09 23:41:59
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  23-Oct-2009 (R)
  DVD: 21-Sep-2010


  DVD: 21-Sep-2010

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