Saturday, 27 January 2007

Art School Confidential (2006)

Art School Confidential

When you see as many movies a week as I do, you're constantly on the lookout for good films that don't just follow the usual, tired formulae. Too many films are either totally predictable 'feel good' or 'action' Hollywood copycat fare or 'worthy but dull' European efforts that can become rather TOO turgid in their attempts to win 'art house' or 'truly indie' classifications (For a perfect example of the latter see my personal blog posting about this week's World Cinema Award 2007).

Art School Confidential is one such 'good' film - no great oscar contender, but an enjoyably quirky 100 minutes that restores one's faith in cinema.

The film tells a solid, familiar story, albeit in a quirky, witty and rather misanthropic way, and fears some great acting from not just the relatively new lead upstart Max Minghella and Sophia Myles but old stalwarts John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent and Angelica Huston too.

On one level Art School Confidential is a murder mystery. On another it's an old-fashioned teenage love story. On a third level it's a savage satire on the world of art and film school.

Art School Confidential screencap

Max Minghella plays a naive, talented young artist, Jerome Platz, who starts art college enthusiastic and full of dreams, only to quickly have them dashed by his pretentious, bitter and disillusioned no-talent teacher, played by John Malkovich.

In one of his classes Jerome falls madly in love with one of the models, Audrey (Sophia Myles), who doesn't discourage him, but seems to prefer fellow student Jonah (Matt Keeslar), a bit of a loner who to the rest of the students - and Jonah in particular - seems much too 'traditional' in a clean-cut American way to be a real art student, despite the enthusiastic gushing about his work from the class teacher.

Through a slacker student friend Jonah meets failed artist and alcoholic Jimmy (Jim Broadbent), a rude, disillusioned figure who seems to be the only person who recognises Jerome's genuine talent. But what's the real story behind Jimmy and Jonah, and do either of them have anything to do with the recent serial murders that have been taking place on the student campus?

Art School Confidential screencap

Anyone who's seen TV Show Six Feet Under will find they're on familiar territory here, and in many ways that show, has pre-empted this film, weakening the impact of this extremely cynical take on the false pomposity of the art world. Nevertheless there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and the underlying 'nerdy' love story sustain interest throughout. Both Myles and Minghella turn in excellent performances, and while Malkovich has got to the stage where one wonders if he's ever really acting as opposed to just another parody of himself that's getting closer and closer to his real world persona, Jim Broadbent doesn't disappoint as the bitterly disillusioned Jimmy. What I liked about this film was the unpredictability of the storyline. Not only are you never quite sure where it's going, but you're never quite sure who the serial killer might be, and it's rather typical than when he's revealed it's in an almost throwaway fashion, some time before the end of the film.

At times the film does feel structurally messy. The first half hour is a series of comedy sketches aimed at the whole culture of art school, but slowly a more traditional boy-meets-girl story emerges in tandem with an odd 'is this a joke or is it real?' multiple murder sub-plot, and then all-of-a-sudden we're somewhere else entirely, with an ending that many will find a little downbeat with the obvious move away from the usual Hollywood clichéd 'boy and girl finally get together' ending. I don't think I'm spoiling the film in saying that the film delivers on the usual 'feel good' ending, but the manner in which it happens leaves rather more loose ends than typical film audiences are used to, which may account for those low critical scores. Personally I thought the ending worked well, as did the rest of the film, in following established convention enough to make the film watchable by a mainstream audience, whilst also offering enough originality to break out a little from the straitjacket formula most of these genre films have to adhere to.

Art School Confidential screencap

In one of the accompanying extra's John Malkovich talks about the film being 'tonally difficult', and one can only assume it is these 'tonal' difficulties that have caused the very low rotten tomatoes (critics average) rating of 35% - certainly it doesn't give a realistic impression of the quality of the script, film-editing, acting and direction that are on show.

While the picture is fine, if not outstanding (down to the source material rather than the transfer I suspect), the extra's are disappointing and lose the overall DVD rating a point. There's no commentary track, and the Making of is a rather thin piece. The Sundance featurette is really a Making Of... Part 2, being primarily a fly-on-the-wall short piece on a screening at the festival. The Blooper Reel is a mixture of extended scenes and 're-takes' rather than 'bloopers', along with bits that were filmed for the background news reports that are featured at one point in the film.

This one's definitely worth a rental, and perhaps a purchase too if you enjoy well-made, original films that don't deviate so far from the mainstream as to be completely unwatchable. Recommended!

Art School Confidential screencap


Anonymous said...

What was the ending? Boy and girl get together? Did Jerome lose his virginity? I fell asleep towards the end.

Ian said...

I see so many films and it's 3 years since I wrote the above review I can't remember. Should rewatch it at some point I guess