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Art School Confidential

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 05/11/06 18:42:50

"Nowhere near as perceptive or clever as it pretends to be."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Directed by Terry Zwigoff ("Bad Santa," "Ghost World," "Crumb") and based on comic strip by Daniel Clowes (who also wrote the screenplay), "Art School Confidential" takes scattershot aim at (what else?) art schools and the art world. As satire, "Art School Confidential" works, but only for the first half hour or so, and even then the objects of ridicule and derision are both obvious and trite. "Art School Confidential" does have its share of gags, but an underwritten screenplay makes it next to impossible to recommend, except for fans of Clowes and Zwigoff or former art school students who might see a reflection of themselves in the characters and situations.

Jerome Platz (Max Minghella), a skinny, put-upon high school nerd/artist living in suburban purgatory, applies to and gets accepted to an East Coast art school. Jerome dreams of becoming the "greatest artist of the 21st century," like his acknowledged idol, Pablo Picasso, the "greatest artist of the 20th century." He also dreams of emulating Picasso in another area: success with women (in and out of his age range). In short, Jerome hopes to remake, reinvent himself into a respected, up-and-coming artist who, of course, is also a babe magnet. It's a dream everyone and anyone with a modicum of artistic talent has had at some point in their lives.

At art school, a wide-eyed Jerome meets his roommates, Matthew (Nick Swardson), an effeminate, closeted fashion designer and a hyperactive, foul-mouthed filmmaker wannabe, Vince (Ethan Suplee). In Professor Sandiford's (John Malkovich) art class, Jerome acquires a mentor, Bardo (Joel Moore). Bardo gives Jerome a rundown of the "living clichés" typical to art school, including punker chicks, art snobs/future critics, the butt-kisser, and a preppy/pretty-boy type, Jonah (Matt Keeslar), who quickly emerges as Jerome's rival in art and for the attention of an art model, Audrey (Sophia Myles), who Jerome first spied in a catalog for the art school.

Remarkably, Jerome's sketch of Audrey leads to an erstwhile date with her, but it's not long before Audrey's attentions shift to Jerome's rival, Jonah, whose simplistic, primitive art work gains the positive attention of Jerome's fellow students and, more importantly, Sandiford. One first-year student will have his work prominently displayed in an art gallery. The cynical, failed-at-everything-else Bardo takes Jerome to meet Jimmy (Jim Broadbent), an alcoholic, failed artist who talks bitterly about the art world. Jerome also learns that a serial killer has left a trail of bodies near the art school campus. Someone close to Jerome might be responsible.

As Jerome's naive idealism and romanticism collide with the real world, Art School Confidential switches focus from modest, obvious satire of art school to an equally obvious satire of the art world, e.g., egotistical, undertalented artists, greedy art dealers, and even the pretensions of cafe art culture. Along the way, Jerome gets a one-off lesson in the timelessness of art from an art professor, Sophie (Anjelica Huston), which does little to convince Jerome to remain true to his principles. Then there's the serial-killer-on-the-loose storyline that essentially takes over the second half of the film. Thanks to this storyline, we get a hackneyed disquisition on "murder-as-art" from Jimmy, mistaken identity, and another obvious critique of our media- and celebrity-obsessed culture (artists who kill apparently sell well).

With an increasingly unsympathetic, underwritten, undermotivated central character and weak plot turns that reek of desperation and unoriginality, does "Art School Confidential" have anything going for it? Yes, for approximately a half hour or so, as Jerome gets rudely introduced to the ins-and-outs of art school and his fellow art school students. His attempts at dating female art students are wittily presented via montage. With Jerome's heart and libido elsewhere, it's not surprising every date fails. Then we have the self-involved art school instructor who, surprise, surprise (or actually not) turns out to be an artistic failure (minus moral scruples, of course). In short, "Art School Confidential" is as disappointing a film as Jerome turns out be as an artist.

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