Art School Confidential
Drying paint on a canvas
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"It is through Art and through Art only that we can realize our perfection; through Art and Art only that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence." Oscar Wilde
Art schools are prime satirical matter with their inherently eccentric faculty and staff and students' fruitless efforts to make a living and be spiritually alive after getting their degrees. For neocons and pragmatists alike, this is a netherworld of slacking, drugged-up pretenders and broken dreams. So director Terry Zwigoff, whose Bad Santa is my favorite bad-ass comedy, should be comfortable with this material.
Regrettably he's not because after the initial scanning of amusing campus types, which he does well, he resorts to treating this world as one giant stereotype with flat-line stereotyped characters, who after the first half hour are not funny anymore but just weird without humor. Even with the expectation of seeing hot, naked artists' models, we first get a not-so-pleasing surprise model, then briefly a pleasant Sophia Myles, whose Audrey, pursued by hero Jerome (Max Minghella), after a while is just a part of the remaining listless narration.
Jerome's reasons for going to art school in the first place, a combination of wishing to become the "best artist in the twenty-first century" and to find the girl of his dreams, are nothing more than adolescent lusts that quickly lead nowhere, aided by Minghella's laid-back, laconic delivery. He's in most of the scenes, tedious enough to send the audience to accounting majors for excitement.
Even the serial killer subplot lacks a binding connection to the narrative, except for its tenuous relation to art itself. Zwigoff doesn't even carefully direct the estimable Jim Broadbent's drunken alumnus, who quickly becomes obnoxious and curiously associated with the murders.
Producer John Malkovich, who underplays an underachieving professor, is not his usually sardonic, demonic actor. Bug-eyed Steve Buscemi does an unbilled and unmemorable turn as a restaurateur and art promoter. Both actors seem to know that this decidedly boring movie is no better than watching paint dry on a canvas.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on-demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com