May 18, 2006


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Art School Confidential (R)
The Ghost World boys — Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff — take a stab at education and the world of high art in Art School Confidential, an occasionally charming, frequently irritating movie.

Ah, much like art students the­m­­selves.

Jerome (Max Minghella) wants to be a great artist like Pablo Picasso and he wants the things that he thinks will come with being a great artist, things like not getting bullied and scoring dates with the hottest girls. When he finally gets an opportunity to go to art school, he is confronted with a world that isn’t as pure and bully-free as he’d hoped. He meets the art school “types” — the kiss-ass, the blow-hard, the failed-artist teacher — and then he meets Audrey (Sophia Myles), the real reason he’s devoted his life to art. She isn’t just a lovely nude model, she’s also the daughter of a famous artist and an accepted part of the art world. She is Jerome’s inspiration. And he creates a lovely sketch and then a wonderful portrait of her — maybe a little too lovely. Making it in art school isn’t so much about skill, we quickly learn. His fellow students turn in child-like scribbles or over-used ironic pop art and receive praise for expressing their “humanity.” This kind of thinking threatens to drive Jerome mad — especially when it comes to Jonah (Matt Keeslar), a Captain America-like fellow student whose drawings of cars and tanks look like a 9-year-old boy’s doodles but earn wows from the other art students. It’s like “outsider art,” one of them says. Jerome finds all this praise for so much silliness especially hard to take when Audrey starts to believe in Jonah’s genius as well.

And here we have the makings of a nice, tight, darkly comic little film about the difference between a good artist and a successful art student (for the first, talent is a must; for the second, spin is more necessary). The movie, had it confined itself to this dramatic irony and explored more of the parody-worthy facets of the art world, could have been the same sort of smart, sublime deadpan comedy that Ghost World was.

Instead, Art School Confidential meanders through its subject, picking up pieces of pretension and bits of meta and briefly considering them before setting them down again, like a shopper who doesn’t know what he’s looking for. Do I want a figurine symbolizing the overuse of symbolism or do I want a vase decorated with the callowness of youth? Hmm, don’t know, maybe I’ll just settle for the paperweight of the overused cliché.

And just when you’re bored and confused by Art School Confidential’s unwillingness to pick a plot and a theme and go with it, the serial killer shows up.

The serial killer strangles students and others in the art school’s vicinity and seems like a plot device straight out of a bad student film. He serves as a sporadic bringer of menace and an occasional source of inspiration (Jerome’s roommate makes a film about the killings, the first iteration of which is a Tarantino knock-off). And when, once the movie has really lost its way, the serial killer shows up to facilitate a completely screwy final act.

Though parts of Art School Confidential are funny, most of the movie takes on the too-clever, self-important quality of the very art and artists it seeks to parody. C

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