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Yesterday I went to my local art theater to watch an art film about a
future artist attending art school. Whew! I'm glad I got that out!
But lets chat about this art film, shall we? Here we go...
It's got a lot going for it. First and foremost is an impressive script. Obviously the screenwriter, director, producer (or all three) attended art school at some point. And making fun of the people and faculty at such a place is where the comedy in Art School Confidential takes wing. When Jerome (Max Minghella), the main character, begins attending his freshman year at Strathmore Art School, he's quickly introduced to the cliché-riddled cast (the cliché is purposeful and pulled off just as well as the movie GALAXY QUEST). He meets the burned-out art teacher Professor Sandiford (John Malkovich), the beautiful model that every male wants named Audrey (Sophia Myles), the angry lesbian, the teacher's pet/kiss-a$$, the drug addled film student, and a splash of others. There's also a strangler on the loose in the neighborhood which will play a vital role in how Jerome's artistic dreams play out.
The ridiculousness of art school is what really makes this movie work. Jerome is obviously very talented, but other artists whiz by him because art is what the artists say art is. It might be a picture of a car, or a man attaching jumper cables to his nipples and letting current run through him, or a mound of plastic chairs.
Jerome wants to be the next Picasso. He studies hard, tries to get noticed, but nothing seems to work. He's also a virgin and wants desperately to get laid but with the wacked out student body at Strathmore, he's got his work cut out for him.
As Jerome works and works, trying to become a successful artist, we get to watch him fall into despair; he starts smoking, drinking, and visits a washed up Strathmore graduate named Jimmy (Jim Broadbent) who gives him some dark and grotesquely sage advice: "Are you good at 'getting on your knees?'" (I've cleaned that up a bit, but you get the idea.) It becomes apparent to Jerome (and the movie watcher) that he has no chance of becoming a recognized artist ...unless something drastic happens. Which, of course, it does (Cliche? Oh yes!) Once this "something drastic" happens, Jerome learns the true nature of being an artist. It's an unfortunate and incredibly funny set of circumstances that finally thrusts Jerome into the limelight.
The level of casting in this indie film is surprisingly large and notable. In addition to John Malkovich (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) we see Anjelica Huston (THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS), Jim Broadbent (MOULIN ROUGE!), Matt Keeslar (DUNE miniseries), Ethan Suplee (COLD MOUNTAIN), Steve Buscemi (THE BIG LEBOWSKI) and several others.
This impressive cast pulled off the overly-pretentious attitudes that flood many art schools. They were witty yet cynical which made laughing out loud a requirement during the viewing of this amazing little flick.
God I love these little independents when they're done right!
I came into this film expecting a mean, rude comedy in the vein of
Zwigoff's previous effort Bad Santa (a film which has more brains than
it gets credit for). For the first 3/4 or so of the film, that's what I
got, and I enjoyed every second. Towards the last bit, the film takes a
turn darker than you would expect. This sudden twist, unexpected as it
was, did not feel trite or convoluted. More fascinating.
Make no mistake this a dark comedy in the truest definition. There is something about the ending that is supremely haunting.
Ethan Suplee provides the hyper-actively aggressive role he has become beloved for. Malkovich does not disappoint as the burnt-out and oh-so-full-of-crap art professor. Jim Broadbent channels Chuck Bukowski here as he barks like a pit-bull and alternately purrs like a tabby as the disheveled failed artist/ nihilistic mentor of our boy Jerome, who just may be the only unpretentious and truly talented student at Strathmore University. Throw in Anjelica Huston and Steve Buscemi in delightfully understated roles, a string of murders courtesy of the mythical Strathmore Strangler, and the positively stunning Sophia Myles as the nude drawing class model Audrey who becomes both the object of Jerome's affection and the source of his disillusion, and you have got a dysfunctional masterpiece.
First off, let me just say how much I love Max Minghella. I saw Bee
Season at a film festival a while back and straight off knew he was
going to do fantastic things with his career. So far he's proved me
I have been anticipating Art School Confidential for a long time. I found out about it through the IMDb, and as a big fan of Zwigoff's previous work, I was really looking forward to seeing what he was going to do with the fabulous cast he had assembled (Malkovich, Huston, Buscemi, etc). The movie did not disappoint.
The beginning of the film is about what I expected- cute, off-beat story about a talented geek who goes to art school and pursues the girl of his dreams. And then it got dark. And then it got very dark. And then it got extremely dark. I soon realized I had no idea where it was going to take me next, and that excited me. The 'mystery' aspect of the movie is brilliantly done as well- it keeps you just well informed enough that you have about a 50/50 chance of figuring it out preemptively, and you'll always realize what's going on just when you need to.
I have read reviews that called Art School Confidential misanthropic, among other things. I disagree. It has misanthropic aspects, misanthropic characters, but overall I found that it ended on an expressly positive note. I absolutely loved the ending. Five minutes before it ended, I wasn't sure how it was going to end, and that, in my opinion, is the best way to do it. Zwigoff's direction is also very impressive. There's a distinct difference in the atmosphere throughout- it starts out looking and feeling sunnier and lighter, and as Minghella's character becomes darker, so does the look of the movie. Just one of those little things that adds to the overall experience.
Art School Confidential thoroughly covers ground that Ghost World touched on briefly- namely, the line between art and BS. It is clearly a subject on which Terry Zwigoff has a lot to say, and he says it very eloquently. The cast is great, the music is great, the direction is great. Go see it. And let me say again... I love Max Minghella. Here's hoping he doesn't turn to stupid teen flicks to pay the bills.
I think that those who felt the movie started as an excellent parody of
art schools but then failed by turning dark, you've missed the point.
By turning dark, you start to fear for the main character only to be
confronted by the fact that the art world is so ridiculous, it will
laud anyone for the most insane reasons. Jerome's art was considered
boring until he wasn't. It's not that the movie turned dark...it had to
go in that direction to reach the ultimate parody.
As someone who is regularly disappointed by what passes for art today, it was refreshing to see this confronted in such an open arena. It's a disappointment that people without skills have succeeded-- and that art is the only discipline where professors are afraid to give out poor grades. I certainly experienced this in my art days. Students who put in the effort and failed to complete the requirements would still receive a good grade because they'd put in the effort.
This film is fantastic because it goes to the extreme to comment on art today.
Terry Zwigoff made one of my favorite movies - Ghost World. This one
can be considered a sequel of sorts. Except, it's backwards: instead of
commiserating with the young adult "misfits" in the world of "normal"
people, it now laughs and satirizes them in a setting where their
greatest concentration can be found - an art school in New York. In a
farce-like setup it goes from student to student and ridicules them for
all the "non-conformity" clichés that they are, while staying fully
aware of being one big cliché itself - and landing the mandatory slaps
on the "suburbia" and the "normal world" as well.
But this is where it fails: it lacks any subtlety. What was great about Ghost World, what was its main superiority over Art School Confidential, is that it had enough subtlety to stay an engaging, deep movie, while this comes off more like a flick-for-fun. It's as if Zwigoff decided to do exactly what's expected of him and serve it in a transparent glass box for people like me - who would enjoy the movie tremendously nonetheless, but regret everything it's so obviously missing. Oh - and unfortunately for me, I felt like much of the "art-school" topic has already been depicted very well very recently, in the HBO's Six Feet Under.
The beginning of this movie was hilarious. Jerome goes to art school
and meets zany characters, including his gay roommate, his wannabe
filmmaker roommate, and his art teacher (played by John Malkovich). The
dialogue was witty. The audience loved the satire of modern art,
because we all know how ridiculous modern art can be yet we must be
polite and insightful when looking at it. Everyone could relate to the
perverted college humor. Unfortunately, all this silliness ended. Right
in the middle, the movie took a turn of tone and with it took the
refreshingly simple but fun plot.
Art School Confidential suddenly became serious about its characters, including the mysterious strangler. The decision to transform the movie into a serious mystery was it's major flaw. With this move, the writers felt they had to incorporate a more confusing plot to achieve a mysterious tone. By the end, the initial idea of simply amusing the audience was lost because of the poorly-crafted mystery, leaving the audience disappointed.
Why do filmmakers do this? They think because we have paid to see an indie movie, we want an obscure plot twist topped off with an unresolved ending. It's like having ice cream, fun and simple, then someone comes over and adds a twist of lime and tops it off with crab apples! Obscure, but no fun because it tastes weird and you were content with the ice cream by itself. I recommend the first hour of this movie.
For the first 30 minutes, 'Art School Confidential' sets itself up as a coming of age movie. But instead of at that pivotal moment when one comes of age, Jerome the aspiring artist turns to the dark side and begins to show someone with genuine ambition and a worthy character descend into a turbulent test of artistic innovation. Whatever the hell that means. 'Art School' not only depicts the individual growth of Jerome, but also analyzes the definition of art, and in some respects, defines it quite well. Why does shitty art get so much acclaim? Why does quality art often go unnoticed? Why are artists such pretentious ass holes? The whole movie answers all these questions hilariously and beautifully.
I don't understand why this movie has attracted negative reviews. When I saw it the audience - including me - was laughing out loud. Sure, it isn't the cleverest film ever but it is unfailingly entertaining. The performances are great and the script is witty. The point is that Jerome can draw but is no great artist so from the beginning is never going to achieve his ambition to be Picasso. He is as much of a stereotype as everybody else. It is stated right from the start that everybody is a cliché - and ain't that the truth? We are all clichés. As Malkovich explains in the beginning art students are almost guaranteed disappointment. The audience isn't supposed to sympathise with Jerome - if you think you are then you have missed the point.
Much of the problem with Art School Confidential lies with the
character of Jerome. Clowes writes graphic novels, and the main
character he's written here is simply a cartoon figure with no depth to
speak of. He falls much too fast from his ambition of becoming the
world's greatest artist to someone willing to compromise his talent for
the sake of coming in first in a college competition. Granted, he is
pliable, aping whoever he happens to be with at the momentit's Bardo
one moment, star alumnus Marvin Bushmiller (Adam Scott) the next and
adopting the bitter, nihilistic rantings of failed artist Jimmy (Jim
Broadbent) as if those beliefs were his own. This might all be
interesting if Jerome was, say, the type of troubled, seeking boy that
Minghella played in Bee Season. Sadly he is not, and though Minghella
is a fine actor, there's not a lot he can do with what is essentially a
That's not to say that Art School Confidential is completely worthless. Malkovich (who also produced) is very funny, and so is Broadbent, but mostly this feels like the type of comedy Jerome's roommate Vince might someday make: overly broad, obvious, and very self- conscious. It wants to be cool, it wants to be hip, but like Jerome in his quest to be the next Picasso, it's merely clueless.
We saw this dark comedy at Sundance (SLC showing). I wanted very much to give this a totally positive review, but it's just so disjointed that it was hard to decide what it was trying to say. The cast is terrific: John Malkovic, Anjelica Huston, Jim Broadbent, Sophie Myles, among others. There are a lot of things that are funny in this film, and we did laugh. But the storyline is all over the place. I read an interview with the director (who didn't come for Q & A after this one), and he said the storyline has a lot to do with his fear of New York, along with his fascination for it. The NYC shown in this film is very scary; I don't think I'd ever even want to visit it, much less want to live there! The film skewers a lot of snooty art types, and in that arena, it works. However, the second half of the movie just didn't quite work for me. The firsthalf of the film was amusing, but when it turned extremely dark in the final act, it just didn't feel right. It's too bad, because I think it's great fun to skewer the snooty art world...but this was just too far over the top.
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