Art School Confidential

Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, Matt Keeslar, John
Malkovich, and Jim Broadbent star in a film written by Daniel
Clowes and directed by Terry Zwigoff.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

For the past decade, iconoclastic director Terry Zwigoff has
periodically sent out beautifully wicked little missives from the
fringes of the American movie scene. What began with the
startlingly good documentary Crumb led to the quirky jewel
Ghost World and the delicious black comedy Bad

By this point, Zwigoff is entitled to a goof, and it has arrived
in the form of the strangely uneven, purpose-challenged Art
School Confidential
. Based on Daniel Clowes’s (also behind
Ghost World) graphic novel, the story seems like the writer’s
sour-grapes tirade against the follies of art school and
contemporary art in general. It joins a small but intriguing group
of films in recent years dealing with the fine-art scene, including
Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Shape of
. In these films, actions in the name of art verge on
moral crime stories.

Our protagonist is a young suburban artist (Max Minghella) who
defies his family’s pragmatic wishes and goes to study art at
Strathmore. His old-school drawing and rendering skills, not to
mention his romantic views of love and the female form, put him at
odds with an art school curriculum high on concept. He’s aghast
when fellow students he sees as inferior win favor in the

One student’s childlike picture of a car elicits kudos from the
teacher (John Malkovich). Says one student about the work, “It’s
like he figured out how to unlearn all the typical art school
bullshit. It’s really great.” Another notes, pompously, that “it
has the singularity of outsider art, though the conscious rejection
of spatial dynamics could only come from an intimacy of the
conventions of picture-making.” Meanwhile, our hero rolls his eyes
and heads back to the easel.

Jim Broadbent — like Bad Santa with a paint brush and a
pickled, cynical brain — plays a Strathmore grad and washed-up
artist, now a drunk living in a rent-controlled rat hole. He makes
dour pronouncements about the innate corruption of the art world
and humanity, and calls Picasso “a nasty little dwarf who went his
whole life without a single original thought.” In a rare tender
moment, he explains to our young hero why an artist puts up with so
much pain: “He lives only for that one moment of narcotic

For all its elements of delight and oddity, Art School
is a well-meaning, fuzzy-headed mess. A satirical
poke at contemporary art, it also weaves in a suspense angle
concerning a serial strangler and a surprisingly standard-issue
love story angle, all in search of a purpose or a meaning. Kind of
a like a young artist in search of self or a bankable shtick.


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