Art School Confidential (2006)

DVD Cover (Sony Home Entertainment)
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Overall Rating 63%
Overall Rating
Ranked #3,451
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Starting from childhood attempts at illustration, the protagonist pursues his true obsession to art school. But as he learns how the art world really works, he finds that he must adapt his vision to the reality that confronts him. --TMDb
Review by bluemeanie
Added: May 21, 2006
There is something amazing about director Terry Zwigoff. He is always treading new waters and exploring the unknown. He takes film-making in entirely different directions, much like Wes Anderson, David O. Russell, and Paul Thomas Anderson. His documentary "Crumb" is one of the finest documentaries ever filmed. "Ghost World" was an extraordinary piece of drama. "Bad Santa", his most commercially successful film, was one of the crudest, yet insanely enjoyable comedies I have ever seen. His fourth mainstream effort comes to us in the form of "Art School Confidential", a difficult film that tests not only an audiences ability to follow a disconnected storyline, but also an audiences ability to enjoy material obviously written so skewed and out of context that it makes the whole experienced seem somewhat jaded and confusing. This film was, by far, his weakest piece - yet there is something strangely enticing about it. I watched the film in a theatre with about fifteen others and I am pretty confident that all fifteen hated every single second of the film, apart from the nudity and the rampant profanity. I even heard one guy say, "Boy, that sucked", as we left the theatre. He's right. "Art School Confidential" did suck. And it will to a lot of people. But it also rules. It rules too.

The hero of this fable is Jerome (Max Minghella). He is accepted to the prestigious art school and almost immediately falls for Audrey (Sophia Myles), the daughter of a famous pop artist who also poses nude for extra pocket money. Most of the film deals with Jerome struggling to win Audrey over, occasionally becoming sidetracked by a slew of supporting characters, including: John Malkovich as Professor Sandiford, who has a knack for painting triangles; Anjelica Huston as Sophie, another art teacher who really serves very little purpose; Jim Broadbent as Jimmy, a former artistic hopeful who now lives in squalor and hates humanity; and, Ethan Suplee as Jerome's filmmaker roommate. Throughout the film, a side-plot looms regarding a serial killer who has been picking off victims in and around the college for weeks. This side-plot figures into the last half of the film in a big way. This serial killer side-plot is what is going to throw a lot of people off from enjoying the film. Zwigoff had to know this. He had to realize that the insertion of such an insane and unbelievable ending was going to be problematic for the picture. I just don't think he cares. I think Zwigoff knew exactly what he wanted, but wanted it nevertheless. "Art School Confidential" is very difficult in that sense.

The opening section of the film had a very "National Lampoon's Animal House" feel to it, from the opening montage of various students entering college for the first time, to Jerome being introduced to a variety of mentally unstable female students. Then the film gets a little sweeter, with Jerome falling for Audrey and their occasional meetings. The film then takes a drastic turn and gets darker and darker until we start to see that "Art School Confidential" is more about obsession than anything else. This film is not about a young man's struggle to make his way in the world of art so much as it is the story of a young man who wants it all and doesn't want to wait. In this sense, the ending of the film does not come as a surprise. In that sense, the ending of the film seems appropriate in a weird "Network" kind of way. "Art School Confidential" was the kind of film that left me scratching my head at the end. But, once I sat down and thought through it, I enjoyed it much more. I still didn't love it. It is definitely Zwigoff's weakest picture, but it still has its own merit, and I think it deserves slightly more recognition.

And, as if I didn't preach it enough with "Bee Season", Max Minghella is one of the most talented young actors working in the business today. Here, he sparkles and carries the entire film with his performance. He is super talented, gorgeous, and has that perfect blend of innocence and wisdom - he really takes ahold of this character and digs in with both hands. Zwigoff was lucky wise to cast him. Ethan Suplee provides some of the richest laughs in the film as the filmmaker who just wants to make his opus, thanks to the assistance of his grandfather. Malkovich, Huston, and Buscemi provide enjoyable enough support is rather meaningless roles, and Jim Broadbent is wholly entertaining as the cynical old artist who is not quite what he seems. This was definitely a Zwigoff casting job. Actors in a Zwigoff directed picture act in a certain way, and I assume that is likely a directive from the man himself. You can always tell a Terry Zwigoff film from the performance, in the same way you can a Wes Anderson film.

On the whole, "Art School Confidential" is going to disappoint more people than it is going to impress. Those who go in expecting Zwigoff to return to his "Bad Santa" formula are not going to be pleased with the end result. Think of this film as his hybrid between "Ghost World" and "Bad Santa", because that's just what it is. I went in expecting something quirky and lighthearted and fun, and got all three of those things, but also got a little more depth than I expected, an amazing turn by Max Minghella, and some pretty ingenious writing from Daniel Clowes. "Art School Confidential" has really been championed by Sony Pictures Classics and given a pretty wide release. This will likely not bode well for the long-term success of the picture, but it will give more people access to a film that would otherwise go unnoticed amidst the Summer blockbusters. Real film fans, and real Zwigoff fans will enjoy this one more than anyone else.

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