Art School Confidential 

(R) 2.5 Stars

Ed Johnson-Ott
(R) 2.5 Stars Ed Johnson-Ott John Malkovich and Max Minghella star as Professor Sandiford and Jerome I like to start my feature reviews off with an opening paragraph that can also more or less serve as a capsule review of the movie. That way, people casually leafing through the paper, skimming stories as they go, can get the gist of the piece quickly and will hopefully be intrigued enough to read the entire article. Sometimes, however, I reserve the specifics until later in the essay, opting to use the opening paragraph to lure you into reading more. You know, like that smarmy host on American Idol does when he acts like he’s about to reveal which contestant is getting the boot, but then says, “And we’ll find that out after this commercial break.” Sure it’s annoying, but you keep watching, don’t you? At this point I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m wasting precious space, not to mention your precious time, screwing around while saying nothing in particular. This brings us to Art School Confidential, the latest from writer Daniel Clowes (Ghost World) and director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World, Bad Santa). Basically, the movie does what I’ve been doing here, diddling around rather than saying anything new or interesting. Bottom line: The movie is almost equally entertaining and irritating, much like this article has been so far. The story centers around young Jerome (Max Minghella), an art school freshman who has left his family in the suburbs to follow his dream of becoming the “greatest artist of the 21st century” and to get laid as much as Picasso. In fact, the scrawny virgin with the puppy dog eyes was drawn to the Strathmore Institute in part because of his attraction to the pretty nude-drawing class model he saw in its brochure. His roommates are a brutish film student (Ethan Suplee, showing none of the charm he displays as the sweetly naïve brother on My Name is Earl) and an effeminate fashion-design student (Nick Swardson), whose references to dating women never sound convincing (zzzzzz). In his nude-drawing class taught by professor Sandiford (John Malkovich in affably reptilian mode), he meets Bardo (Joel David Moore), a stereotypical professional student who identifies all the other art school stereotypes. More importantly, he meets Audrey (Sophia Myles), the nude model from the brochure. Alas, he also meets Jonah (Matt Keeslar), a good-looking student who soon becomes the hit of the class and the object of Audrey’s interest. Anjelica Huston and Jack Ong join Malkovich on the Strathmore staff, while Jim Broadbent turns up as a colorfully wretched artist/drunk and Steve Buscemi does a cameo as a self-serving “supporter of the arts.” Actually, calling Buscemi self-serving is probably unfair, as one of the few points made in the movie is that most people connected with art are primarily in it for the money, especially the art students. Shocking, isn’t it? Oh, and if that one doesn’t set you reeling, try this on for size: All too often, gimmicky art gets more attention and praise than sincere, well-done traditional fare. Oh my God, where do these people come up with such radical ideas?! To give you a break from all the shocking revelations, the movie also includes a subplot about a serial killer with a penchant for strangling students. This allows the filmmakers to try to build to an absurdist climax that underlines the cynicism coursing through the production. The most entertaining moment in Art School Confidential comes during a drawing class with a nude male model. There is a joke about the discomfort the model’s nudity causes one of the students, but the real humor comes from the discomfort in the audience. Listen for the nervous giggles, moans and grunts from the people around you as they are intimidated by the very naked man on screen who just won’t go away. That scene plays with our heads. The rest of Art School Confidential plays with itself. The result is entertaining for a while, then tiring and finally just tedious.

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