Art School Confidential review by Mike Long

I'm not trying to start an existential argument here, but we are little more than the culmination of our experiences. They dictate our behavior and our reactions to the world. The movie Art School Confidential is a good example of how we bring both our experiences in life and our familiarity with the art of movies to viewing a film. With this movie, by experiences as a film fan created certain expectations for the film, but my lack of familiarity with the subject matter created some confusion. The result was a disappointing movie.

Max Minghella (son of film director Anthony Minghella) stars in Art School Confidential as Jerome. All of his life, Jerome has experienced two things -- he's always loved to draw and he's always felt like an outsider. He hopes that things will change when he enrolls in Strathmore, an art school in New York. However, things are just as confusing at school for Max. He rooms with Vince (Ethan Suplee) a hyperactive filmmaker, and Matthew (Nick Swardson), a fey fashion design major. Jerome's classes are somewhat better, as he befriends slacker student Bardo (Joel Moore), in a class taught by Professor Sandiford (John Malkovich). It's in this class where Jerome sees Audrey (Sophia Myles), a model whom Jerome has fantasized about ever since he saw her in the school's brochure. Jerome strikes up an awkward friendship with Audrey, which is soon threatened by the arrival of Jonah (Matt Keeslar), a good-looking jock type who makes childlike paintings of cars and tanks. Meanwhile, a murderer is stalking the Strathmore campus, strangling victims seemingly at random. Can Jerome survive in a place where, even though everyone is weird, he still feels like an outsider?

Art School Confidential comes from director Terry Zwigoff and writer Daniel Clowes, who were responsible for Ghost World. Now, I haven't seen that film, but I have seen Zwigoff's Bad Santa, which was a no-holds-barred raunchy comedic tour-de-force (if I may be so inclined as to use a bunch of hyphenated terms). Combine that with the fact that the trailer for Art School Confidential portrayed it as a sort of arthouse zippy comedy, I had expected the film to offer some laughs if nothing else.

Well, there aren't many laughs to be had in Art School Confidential. That occurs for two reasons. One, the movie is actually more of a drama than a comedy. And two, the jokes that are here are so obvious and shallow that they aren't funny. We have been taught to delve deeper into certain films to look for deeper meaning -- especially independent films. I'm fairly certain that everything in Art School Confidential has risen to the top like so much flotsam and there's nothing underneath. OK, here's the film's big joke: art school is full of pretentious, talentless people who can't agree on what constitutes great art. And that's it. From a layman's perspective, Jerome is a good drawer in the sense that he can capture the human form in a picture. But, is he a good artist? That becomes the question as his fellow students submit either pictures of nothing vs. Jonah's paintings, which look as if they were done by a 12-year old. And then we have Professor Sandiford, who's art is quite perplexing. The ambiguous nature of art really gets to Jerome. Is this a humorous idea? Sure it is, but it's not enough to sustain an entire film.

Then, we have the subplot concerning the "Strathmore Strangler". This notion flows in and out of the narrative throughout the film, as characters mention it off-handedly. It mainly comes to us through Jerome's roommate Vincent, who's making a movie about the strangler. But suddenly, at the 80-minute point, the movie becomes solely about the murderer. This twist is admittedly interesting, as it's actually two major plot twists in one, but it's also quite jarring. It feels as if Zwigoff and Clowes threw their hands in the air and said, "Well, we've gotten as much as we can out of the new art student falls in love with model story, let's focus on the murderer." This shift really throws the first two acts of the film into focus. When the twists take Art School Confidential into a new direction, they also make it a somewhat more interesting film, showing that the earlier plotlines had indeed run out of gas. Sadly, this new momentum isn't maintained for long, and the ending is unsatisfying to say the least.

The other question looming over Art School Confidential is, "Is this what art school is really like?" As someone who knows little to nothing about art school, I felt that much of the film was like an in-joke to which I wasn't privy. Again, it's a question of how deep the film is. We all know that art students can be somewhat offbeat and that artists are competitive...and is that it? Or would I have had to attended art school to find any more humor here?

Given the talent involved, I expected much, much more from Art School Confidential. But the film is all over the place and never finds its rhythm. The idea of the "fish out of water" who becomes a "fish out of water" in a new setting is a great one, but the movie never fully develops any of its storylines. The characters become unlikable and there's simply not enough of the Audrey character in the film. Is this film art? I don't know, but I do know that it's only good for a rental.

Art School Confidential paints an odd picture on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer looks pretty good, as the image is sharp and clear. There is some slight grain at times, and I did notice one or two black spots on the image, but otherwise, it's clear. The colors are very good, as Zwigoff has shot the film in a just slightly exaggerated style so that the various colors in the on-screen art is very noticeable. There is some mild artifacting to the image, but it's nothing serious. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good here, and they are accurately placed when compared to on-screen action. Being a dialogue-driven dramedy, surround sound and subwoofer effects are lite, but the musical cues sound fine.

The Art School Confidential contains a smattering of extras. "Making of Art School Confidential" (8 minutes) is a standard making-of featurette, save for the fact that it gives away the biggest plot twist in the movie, so don't watch it first! The segment contains comments from the cast and crew, and some behind-the-scenes footage. Writer Daniel Clowes touches on the origin of the script, but doesn't give us very much. "Sundance Featurette" (7 minutes) shows the cast & crew at the film's premiere at Sundance. We are treated to some of the Q&A from the showing and some on-camera comments from the participants. The DV D has 12 DELETED SCENES from the movie which total 11 minutes. These scenes don't amount to much, but there is more of Jerome and Audrey here. There is also a 1 minute ADDITIONAL SCENE which would have served as an addendum to the film. The extras are rounded out by BLOOPERS AND ALTERNATE TAKES (5 minutes).

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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