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Awesome: 17.24%
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7 reviews, 16 user ratings

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Art School Confidential
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by Peter Sobczynski

"I don't know what I like, but I know art!"
4 stars

Every high school in America has a kid like Jerome, the central character of “Art School Confidential”–if you don’t recall someone like him from your own school days, it is probably because it was you. Jerome is the kid who has cultivated a persona for himself as the moody and artistic outsider who can’t wait to go to art school so that he can leave all those conformists behind in order to be with people who will be able to fully appreciate his genius–fame, riches and women will, of course, follow close behind. Of course, what doesn’t seem to dawn on him is that art schools are crammed with people who feel the exact same way that he does and that life in a such a place will wind up like life in any other school–there will be suck-ups, weirdos, burned-out teachers, popular guys who get all the attention and pretty girls and those others who sit on the sidelines muttering about how they are the only real artistes who are remaining true to themselves even though they will do virtually anything for just a taste of that popularity.

When Jerome (Max Minghella) arrives at his new school–which, based on the looks of it, is not exactly one of New York’s finest cultural institutions–he is determined to prove to everyone that he is as great and unique of an artist as he has proclaimed himself to be in his own mind. Unfortunately for him, his fellow students and teachers not only don’t hail him as a miraculous new talent, they don’t seem to regard him as anything other than extraordinarily ordinary. (Of course, you could easily assume that every single one of them feels exactly the same way about everyone else there but this is not the kind of enlightened idea that comes easily to him.) Like most students today, they are afraid to express any opinion unless it has been passed and validated by everyone else and when new student Jonah (Matt Keeslar), a classic hunky jock type, submits a painting of a car that is most assuredly a car and it elicits a mildly approving mention from legend-in-his-own-mind Professor Sandiford (John Malkovich), he is immediately hailed by the others as some kind of genius savant–when Jerome dares to criticize it for being not much of anything at all, he finds himself and his work even further ostracized by his fellow students. (Of course, they still insist that he come to their gallery showings.) This rejection becomes so overwhelming that when it becomes apparent that a serial killer is stalking the campus, Jerome hardly seems to notice the commotion.

One distraction that does break through to him is Audrey (Sophia Myles), a fellow student who earns extra money as a nude model at the school. When she appears in Jerome’s class to model, his artistic notions are inspired (among other things) and he creates a striking and beautiful portrait that even she takes notice of. Later, they meet again at one of those aforementioned gallery openings and spend a long night together talking. For Jerome, this is the jackpot–a beautiful girl who appreciates his artistic talents–and he is subsequently crushed to see her on the arm of the jock; it is a toss-up as to whether he is more upset over whether this says more about her taste in artists or her taste in art. In desperation, Jerome decides to forsake his unique vision–possibly because he now realizes that there isn’t that much to lose–and appropriate a pose like everyone else. At first, it works out even less well for him than before but an unexpected series of events transform him into the hottest artist on campus without his having actually done anything.

“Art School Confidential” is the new collaboration between director Terry Zwigoff and writer Daniel Clowes (who based the screenplay on his comic)–their previous teaming resulted in 2001's masterful “Ghost World.” In that film, you will recall, there was a subplot involving a brain-dead art class and this film at times feels like an extension of that particular vignette. In the art world depicted here, everyone wants to be considered an artist but spend more time striking their poses than perfecting their craft–even the teachers are less interested in nurturing talent than in getting their own work displayed while latching themselves onto any of their students with even a whiff of popularity. In fact, there is only one character, a burned-out alcoholic played by Jim Broadbent, on display in the film who could be described as having a genuine artistic impulse–he is someone who paints not because he want money, fame and babes but because he simply has to–and it turns out that he has more than a few secrets as well.

Like “Ghost World,” “Art School Confidential” is anchored by a lot of strong and funny performances that find the proper balance between reality and satire. Minghella perfectly captures every self-absorbed artist you’ve ever met in your life–even though you ache for his genuine ambitions, you want to occasionally smack him for his overwhelming pretensions. Broadbent is very good as one artist with a big secret and Matt Keeslar is also disarmingly amusing as another. I also really liked the way that Sophia Myles takes what could have been the standard sex-bomb role and turns her into a real person who is worthy of Jerome’s idealization. And as the ultimate pseudo-artist–the kind who unapologetically decorates his home with his own paintings (“Ah, the triangles–I was one of the first to do them.”), John Malkovich steals every one of his scenes–even though he is painted as a clown, his character also gets perhaps the most truthful line in the film when he admits to his students that in order to be a great artist, “You have to be a great artist.”

Although “Art School Confidential” is a bright and very funny film (I especially loved its depiction of art school gym class), it nevertheless pales in comparison to the great “Ghost World”–the humor is a little too broad at times (coming closer to the approach that Zwigoff used in “Bad Santa”) and the last couple of reels get a little too predictably cynical for their own good (and I may scream if I see another film appropriating the finale of Bresson’s “Pickpocket,” even if the intent is as ironic as it is here). That said, the film is generally a smart and funny social satire that scores a lot of points by mocking those oppressing its hero while cheerfully admitting that he may have it coming after all. No doubt, Zwigoff and Clowes recognized a lot of themselves in the character of Jerome but they were smart enough to realize that parts of them exist in the other characters as well. If you doubt me, stick around for the end credits and see who is responsible for actually doing Jonah’s paintings.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13571&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/12/06 00:57:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Portland Film Festival For more in the 2006 Portland Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival For more in the 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2006 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/26/13 David Hollingsworth Suprising, funny, and a little high-brow 4 stars
2/24/08 SamanthaP being anart student i thought that this movie was very true, it was also very funny! 4 stars
5/08/07 David Pollastrini not great, not terrible 3 stars
2/18/07 Bad Critic Thank you Zwigoff. Dark comedies of yours are a treat. 5 stars
12/06/06 Indrid Cold The comedy is a lot better than the serious parts, but worth a look. 4 stars
11/17/06 Phil M. Aficionado Weak brew indeed; more hackneyed stereotypes than smiles, and very scattered/spotty. 2 stars
9/20/06 John B Fell apart 1/2 way though 3 stars
6/13/06 Ole Man Bourbon Some funny jokes 4 stars
6/02/06 Stefan Russell an endless parade of cliches and bad acting... ha ha not funny either 2 stars
5/28/06 Troy M. Grzych 1st 1/2 is a comedy, the 2nd a dark drama, should have stayed a comedy. 3 stars
5/24/06 cailen dry, dark and tedious 1 stars
5/16/06 Mase Smart, original, unigue,dark comedy from Zwigoff. Smiled throught laughed out loud often!! 5 stars
5/16/06 Paul funny, right on, fine mix of crazy yet eloquently done writing and acting 5 stars
5/13/06 K. Pearlman Indy comic stuff doesn't always go over well with audiences 3 stars
4/12/06 marty Funny Classic and a little dark 5 stars
3/06/06 js Kind of a mess. And I loved GW. 2 stars
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  05-May-2006 (R)
  DVD: 10-Oct-2006



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