Art School Confidential  (2006)

I was kinda determined to like this, because it’s Zwigoff and Clowes, based on the latter’s Eightball... but this movie was not very well received.  (Tomatometer: 36%.)  A lot of people didn’t like it.  And now I can see why:

But though I can understand people’s dislike, I can’t share it; I think this is a fine piece of film.  Oh, it’s no Ghost World (92% on R.T.), but I still quite enjoyed it, and the ending was the most refreshingly un-Hollywood one I’ve seen in many a moon.  Your initial reaction may be that necessary pieces are missing, but actually everything you need is there.  It’s hard to think of another film that’s so masterful in its choices of when not to show something.  Time after time, stuff you’d assume would be included is skipped over, and always, in hindsight, it wasn’t needed.  The solution to the murder mystery, for example, is never spelled out for you, but there’s enough data there to make it unambiguous.

This perfect spareness has a very beneficial effect on the young-man-coming-of-age plot.  See, I’m pretty sure I can last the rest of my life without watching another cinematic awkward teenager trying to figure out how to talk to girls.  I think I’ve stored up a surplus supply of such scenes large enough to get me through several decades without seeing any more of them.  In a young-man-coming-of-age story like this, such scenes are mandatory.  But here they are covered so economically, with so little unnecessary repetition of scenes we’ve seen before, that they almost become a joy to watch.

The other main aspect of the film, of course, is the satire of art schools.  Now I have no idea what the inside of an art school is like, though I did live near one until recently.  There may be art schools that are as bogus as this in real life.  But for the average viewer, the bogosity shown in the school may well strain credulity.  They lay it on pretty damn thick.  But for me it’s within the realm of plausibility — certainly by comedy standards, at least.  I mean, look at what some people sell as art.  A culture which pays money for such stuff will also find a way to teach such stuff.

Aside from plausibility, one has to consider the funny-ability.  This movie cracked me up on a number of occasions, and that’s what says they’re doing it right.

The cast: Max Minghella as the protagonist, Jerome, does the character right, but he has a couple of shortcomings.  Mainly, he hasn’t got the knack of being miserable and funny at the same time, as some comic actors can manage to do.  If he had, the closing act might have left a better impression on people.  Sophia Myles is okay but not really charismatic enough to play someone being talked up as an alpha babe.  John Malkovich as the protagonist’s main teacher is a hoot, and ends up stealing scenes.  Ethan Suplee and Nick Swardon as Jerome’s roommates are perfect.  And Jim Broadbent, as an old drunk who knows what future awaits art school graduates, is riveting.  Matt Keeslar as Jerome’s romantic rival does a very serviceable job with a complex role that has to appear simple.

So, it’s not a great film, but it is a good one, and has a healthy amount of originality and is very unformulaic.  Overall, recommended.