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ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (R) (2006)

Sony Pictures Classics

Official Site

Director: Terry Zwigoff

Producers: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Russell Smith

Written by: Daniel Clowes

Cast: Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, Ethan Suplee, Matt Keeslar, Joel David Moore, Jim Broadbent, Anjelica Huston, John Malkovich

Rating:


The last time Terry Zwigoff collaborated on a film with comic book artist Daniel Clowes they produced the bittersweet Ghost World, a critically adored film about misfits, beautiful losers who find each other. Their new film Art School Confidential hews much closer to Zwigoff’s last film, Bad Santa, an uproariously profane and mean-spirited film that aimed to undermine the yuletide spirit with a visceral assault of bad attitude and bad taste.

Their latest film is a broad parody of an art school filled with phonies. The film was reportedly shelved after an unsuccessful debut at Cannes, and it’s not hard to see why. Though filled with a kind of sneering cynicism that isn’t commonly found in the multiplex, Art School Confidential, like Bad Santa, is a decidedly conventional and almost defiantly shallow film. The humor though is often spot-on, and the film is actually very funny.

Rather than beautiful misfits, the school, Strathmore, is filled with all the clichés you might expect to find in a art school—crazy goth chicks, new age hippies, inveterate slackers, pretentious blowhards. The film’s hero Jerome (Minghella) is as clueless as any of them. Tormented by bullies and ignored by girls, Jerome naively hopes that he can become the next Picasso, and parlay that into getting laid. Unfortunately, his talent for naturalistic painting is mostly ignored by his trendy classmates. And when he tries to display one of his paintings to the class, his teacher (Malkovich) scolds him for “trying to sing with someone else’s vocal cords”. It’s this kind of ear for art school blather that provides much of the film’s best humor.

Jerome’s lack of success with the art and the chicks leads him to start identifying with a burnt-out alcoholic painter named Jimmy (Broadbent) who only admires the work of the serial strangler who has recently started hitting campus. (Yes, there is a serial killer in here, and yes it is a lame narrative device, but I think Zwigoff realizes that too.) These scenes with Jimmy actually have a creepy intensity to them that’s inconsistent with the rest of the film’s smug cynicism. The hole of an apartment where Jimmy rots brings back uncomfortable memories of R. Crumb’s shut-in older brother in Zwigoff’s much-celebrated documentary. Though he seems to be trying very hard, Zwigoff may be unable to make an entirely commercial film. Between the low-brow humor and sloppy plotting we get glimpses of a genuinely jaded perspective on art and human nature.

The ending, like Bad Santa’s, is tongue-in-cheek sunny cynicism, with Jerome getting what he always wanted. I’m afraid Art School Confidential will fall through cracks though. It’s too clever and too bitter for the multiplex crowd, but it’s also too conventional and too funny for an art house crowd.

—Edward Rholes

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



Pink Floyd

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