Art School Confidential (2006) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for nudity, drug references, some violence, and language
Running Time: 102 min.
Cast: Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Matt Keeslar, Ethan Suplee, Joel Moore, Steve Buscemi, Anjelica Huston, Adam Scott, Michael Lerner
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Screenplay: Daniel Clowes (based on a story as published in his comic book, "Eightball")
Review published October 16, 2006
Art School Confidential marks the second collaboration between director Terry Zwigoff (Bad Santa, Crumb) and comic book creator Daniel Clowes, the other being the 2001 cult hit, Ghost World. While this may not be held as high in the minds of Zwigoff fans, it is still entertaining stuff, with all of the eccentric characters, pent-up angst, and subtle ironies you've come to expect from the quirky filmmaker. Like Ghost World, the story is rather aimless, which is, of course, part of the theme of the material. It's all about a young person trying to find his way through life, but with so many conflicting emotions, contrary advice, and yearnings unexpressed, the only destination such stagnation allows is into the pit of despair.
Matt Minghella (Bee Season) stars as Jerome Platz, a freshman student at the Strathmore Institute, an esteemed school for art students in New York City. While in attendance, he develops a crush on one of the models, Audrey (Myles, Tristan + Isolde), who he tries to impress with his art, but then finds she is already taken by the mundane styles of Jonah. Meanwhile, Jerome had plenty of other pressures to deal with, including demanding teachers, acidic fellow students, and a crazed killer on the loose who is offing the art students one by one.
While I'm grading Art School Confidential the same as Ghost World, I should point out that it has a more limited appeal. Whereas Ghost World is relatable to anyone who has ever felt aimless and unable to get out of the rut of one's daily existence, Art School is much more fine-tuned, mocking the institutions of higher learning in the art world. Bad art is good art, and good art is too good, it's difficult for a struggling art student to decipher just how much talent he or she has when the worst art in the class is praised as the best, and vice versa. Jerome is instructed by his teacher (Malkovich, A Talking Picture) to try a variety of different styles to branch out in his art, then slams him for not being able to have his own voice. All of it seems subject to the whim of the instructor, who in this case, has spent decades honing his skills in order to paint simple triangles.
Needless to say, your mileage will certainly vary as to how much of this artsy satire will appeal to you. I suspect that the closer you are to the art world, especially as it exists within the educational system, the more you will be able to relate to the subtle spoofing employed by Zwigoff and Clowes in toying with stereotypes. In the middle of this satire is a bit of a burgeoning love story, as Jerome becomes infatuated with a female model, seeing her only as the beauty he fell in love with through a portrait, unable to see that she is as shallow, petty and common as the rest of the art school herd. Meanwhile, the murder mystery creeps in from time to time, so you know all of these independent stories will come to a head in the end, but you're not sure when and how. Zwigoff tries a variety of different styles borrowed from other filmmakers, but, unlike Jerome, he shows that he can still retain his own voice throughout the entirety of his work.
©2006 Vince Leo