Dir. Terry Zwigoff. US.2006. 102mins.
TerryZwigoff's ArtSchool Confidential doesn't achieve the promise of its intriguing premise -how far will an aspiring artist go to achieve recognition' ScreenwriterDaniel Clowes' answer' Far.But his script doesn't work hard enough to merit this cynical if trueconclusion.
Audiences will be left wondering what tothink about a movie that plays like a horny teen film but aspires to theopposite polarity: to comment on the nature of art and the unavoidablesubjectivity we bring to it. Theatrical prospects will rely on a critical massof critical praise. At Sundance, where the film debuted in the Premiereselection, the buzz was mixed at best. The Malkovichname may carry some weight internationally but the film is too light-weight toignite interest within his fanbase.
One thing Clowesgets right is the artist at the centre of his story. Jerome (Minghella) is heading off to art collegeto realise his childhood dream of being a greatartist. He's aiming high - as a kid, he went on Hallowe'enas Picasso - and, as the first scenes in life class make clear, he has genuinetalent.
This isn't a subjective observation: thecamera lingers over Jerome and his sketches: the audience is meant toappreciate his talent so as to share his outrage when another student of lessertechnical skill draws critical attention with his simple if technicallyproficient illustrations.
The problem is everything else. Artists andart students are an easy target for parody and art patrons doubly so; Clowes takes the easy route, inhabiting Jerome's world withcliched characters one expects to see in a film like American Pie and not in a film with this much cynical intention,this much to say.
First, we met Jerome's room-mates: theobnoxious, over-bearing and obese aspiring film-maker and thegay-but-not-out-to-himself aspiring fashion designer. Jerome's instructor (Malkovich) is a blinkered and predatory homosexual. Hisfirst confidante, Bardo (Moore) spends his timenoisily identifying these cliches in a loud and smirking tone. Jerome's firstfew dates are all insane. Oh, yes, and a serial killer is prowling the campus.
If every character was a wacko there mighthave been a coherent if silly comedy here. But Jerome's clear difference fromhis peers is matched by the artist's model who hedraws exquisitely and who is attracted by his talent. Audrey (Myles) and Jeromemight be described as sane except that no sane person could float serenelythrough this much absurdity. Ditto Anjelica Huston:although her character is never established, she seems normal in the two scenesshe appears in.
Then there is Jimmy (Broadbent), theenraged, impoverished and alcoholic artist whose work has never been recognised. It's not clear why Bardoknows him or why he takes Jerome with him for ritual verbal abuse; Jimmy'simpassioned outbursts are not funny, nor are they meant to be.
As for the nature of Jimmy's art, Clowes stretches to incredulity Jerome's naivete concerningthem, and indeed his intention in stealing them and passing them off as his ownwork. The audience knows right away what Jerome should plainly see.
As with the performances,tone and milieu are inconsistent, often jarringly so. No doubt there are bizarre art colleges in New York; perhaps onedoes have a burned-out car at the school gates. But there is no way there isone like the fictional Strathmore Institute with its compulsory gym class.
The bald presentation is perplexing andironic, particularly given Zwigoff's earlier film, Crumb, an unvarnished and ambivalentexploration of a successful artist, Robert Crumb, and his unsuccessful but (intheir own way) talented siblings.
There was no reason not to make this film awork of art; to challenge the audience with some subtle brushstrokes. How much more interesting to create a film-maker who was just goodenough to be bad.
Sony Pictures Classics/United Artists
Sony PRI (most)
Barbara A. Hall
Joel David Moore