Film Reviews: Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Art School Confidential
Starring Max Minghella and Sophia Myles. Directed by Terry Zwigoff. Written by Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes, based on Clowes’ graphic novel. Rated R.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Drawn and Quartered

I went to art school and all I got was this bitter, one-note movie.

By KRISTIAN LIN

The widely acclaimed author and illustrator of such graphic novels as Ghost World and David Boring, Daniel Clowes went to art school and hated it. He wants you to know that. In fact, his book Art School Confidential is all about how much he hated art school. Now the book hits the screen with the help of Terry Zwigoff, the writer-director who made Ghost World into a terrific movie. Zwigoff’s Ghost World improved on Clowes’ version by locating the humanity at the core of the satire. The same can’t be said for his version of Art School Confidential, as fun as it occasionally is.

Max Minghella stars as a nerdy kid named Jerome who dreams of becoming the next Picasso. His disillusionment comes quickly after being accepted to the art school in his city. Jerome’s fellow students are a bunch of self-important trendoids and careerists who either ignore or eviscerate his lifelike drawings in classroom criticism sessions. He tries to reply in kind, calling a painting by a fellow student “a Cy Twombly knockoff.” The artist — whose name is Flower — bursts into tears, and the other students call him a jerk. He tries to imitate the art they like. They dismiss him as a derivative hack. Jerome’s one friend (Joel Moore) sees the others for what they are, rattling off the appropriate stereotypes as the students pass by one day. “There’s the Vegan Holy Man ... the Boring Blowhard ... the Angry Lesbian ... the Kiss-Ass.” He’s sharp, but he’s no better than them.

So the art world is full of poseurs and pretentious phonies? Get out! Next thing, you’ll be telling us the earth revolves around the sun. The bitterness of the satire is unrelenting — the professors are envious, no-talent wannabes or sexual predators, the businesspeople are soulless sharks, Jerome’s non-artist family members are narrow-minded idiots, and the cops are Neanderthals. The main source of enjoyment here is watching the supporting actors sink their teeth into these unsympathetic roles, like Steve Buscemi as a profanity-spewing gallery owner. My Name Is Earl’s Ethan Suplee channels Kevin Smith to amusing effect as Jerome’s bloviating film-student roommate, while baby-faced Adam Scott snags the best comic scene as a successful artist who returns to his alma mater to receive an award and repays the school by telling the assembled students, “You all look like fucking assholes to me.” The students applaud his display of honesty instead of throwing their used paintbrushes at him. They deserve what they get.

Satire this harsh and broad can be pulled off if we’re given somebody to root for. (See Thank You for Smoking.) Sadly, Jerome is a hopelessly weak character who tries to romance a beautiful artist’s model (Sophia Myles) without seeing how vapid she is. The only thing that derails the movie from its single track is a subplot involving a serial killer that’s not only distasteful but out of place. Aside from that, Art School Confidential devolves into an interminable litany of complaints, and the director’s comic touch notwithstanding, it quickly wears out its welcome.


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