Judge Brett Cullum once enrolled in a confidential art school, but no one told him where classes were held.
Audrey: What do you want to do?
Art School Confidential is broad satirical slapstick wrapped around both a smart romantic comedy and predictable murder mystery. Yeah, it's sort of hard to classify in a simple all-encompassing term. Maybe this will help. The film is directed by Terry Zwigoff, who gave us both Ghost World and Bad Santa; Art School Confidential grooves on his established aesthetic nicely. It wants to be everything all at once—funny, dark, light, edgy, accessible, believable, fantastical, silly, and smart. The only thing it is not aspiring to be is a Police Academy sequel, but in an odd way, even that description may fit the bill in certain stretches. Collage is the preferred medium of modern artists, and this one makes a beautiful mess and manages to find coherence by the final reels of the story.
It's all about Jerome (Max Minghella, Syriana) who dreams about escaping the suburbs, and becoming a great artist. Part of achieving the lofty goal includes attending a New York City art school called Strathmore where he can hone his craft. Once he's there, Jerome falls in love with an experienced art model (Sophia Myles, Underworld). But what would love be without a rivalry? Enter the mysterious Jonah (Matt Keeslar, The Last Days of Disco), who captures the eyes of the professors as well as those of Jerome's paramour. On top of the normal art world struggles and competition for recognition, there's a strangler on the loose killing off random students and passers-by. Can Jerome escape being on the wrong end of a rope? Will he get the girl? Will anybody recognize his talent?
Zwigoff is the only director who can take all of these strands of plots and weave a tight basket of a movie that manages to achieve all of its goals. We get a satirical look at the art school, an intriguing enough murder mystery, and a touching first love story, and they all come together nicely in a well-thought-out conclusion. Art School Confidential, ironically, is a well-made piece of art that wins a blue ribbon in the independent comedy category.
The cast turns in great performances and they are supported by heavy hitters in the business. John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich) makes a great drawing professor; Anjelica Huston (The Grifters) has an extended cameo as an art history lecturer; Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rouge) does a deliciously bitter turn as a washed-up graduate, and Steve Buscemi (Ghost World) owns a coffee house that is the prized venue of aspiring artists in the school. The characters include everyone we expect, such as the flamboyant gay fashion design major roommate, the abrasive film student, and the kiss-ass teacher's pet. Everyone is well drawn, even in brief roles, and it's a parade of funny moments at the hands of some capable veterans and newcomers.
The DVD for Art School Confidential relies on featurettes to flesh out and explain the vision of the director and cast. There is a "making of" feature that seems like a simple marketing piece, then an intense look at the premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, where the movie did pretty well with audiences. A whole reel's worth of deleted scenes, bloopers, and alternate takes are provided as well. The widescreen transfer is clear even if the film itself is a touch murky. The independent roots show quite a bit, but flesh looks real and colors pop when they need to. The surround sound mix doesn't have to work too hard to create this decidedly non-action world, but the musical soundtrack comes off well. This is a great package from Sony, and there's enough here to satisfy fans.
Art School Confidential seemed to fly by in theatres under the radar for the most part despite the pedigree of the director and cast. On DVD this fun comedy should make many cinema fans and art lovers quite happy to see a film that will elicit laughs without insulting your intelligence. Anyone who has gone to art school will no doubt see truth in the silly posturing of students and professors who are all nowhere in relation to the real art world. It's all about wannabes and has-beens pontificating about what art means, while ignoring the real drama of love and death swirling around them. This is an enjoyable experience that's definitely worth your time. It's not the classic Ghost World was, and it's nowhere near as naughty as Bad Santa. Still, Art School Confidential is a strong piece of work for Terry Zwigoff. He shows great promise, and acquits himself quite easily in the realm of the film "artiste." Bravo!
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