Art School Confidential
Dir. Terry Zwigoff. 2006. R. 102mins. Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, Ethan Suplee, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent.
For any comedy writer, art-school students are a pretty easy target to hit: the annoying affectations, the predilection for an all-black wardrobe, the tendency to spout pretentious jargon while sneering through a haze of Gauloise smoke. Daniel Clowes goes down the checklist in his screenplay for Confidential, a movie that is never sharp enough as satire, never tender enough as loving reminiscence of school days, never suspenseful enough as murder mystery (yes, there’s a killer loose on the campus, a plotline that never quite works).
Suburban naïf Jerome (Minghella) wants to be a great artist, largely, the script suggests, because it will give him access to beautiful women. Or maybe he’s sincere in his desire to be like Picasso. It’s hard to say, since the film seems to want to have it both ways, and Minghella plays him as a complete cipher. He arrives at an urban art college full of naive beliefs that get punctured like so many children’s balloons. He learns several things: Art is also a business (gasp!); artists tend to overpraise the novel and sneer at classical figurative painting (say it ain’t so!); and art-school profs are cynical, overworked types who either loathe their students or want to bed them (the scales have fallen from our eyes!). We suppose some will delight in the mockery of artistic pretension, but it struck us as a poorly executed exercise in shooting decoy ducks.—Hank Sartin