|Art School Confidential (2006)
Starring: Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Matt Keeslar
Director: Terry Zwigoff
In 2001, director Terry Zwigoff gave us “Ghost World,” a modest but hilarious adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ quirky graphic novel of the same name. Now, fresh off the mainstream success of his dark Christmas satire “Bad Santa,” Zwigoff re-teams with Clowes to give us “Art School Confidential,” a film that can’t decide what it wants to be and ultimately ends up with more personalities than the art school schizos and misfits that inhabit it.
“Art School Confidential” starts off well enough, with Zwigoff drolly introducing the eccentric characters of Clowes’ script. Max Minghella plays Jerome, a sheltered suburban kid who finds himself suddenly thrown into this world of Manhattan art students. His roommates, a film major with dreams of being the next Hollywood horror schlock artist, and the obviously gay fashion major who is still firmly locked in the closet, are just the tip of the iceberg. The audience soon meets all manner of art school clichés like the guy who wears the army jacket, the hippie girl, and of course, the angry lesbian.
It is these early moments where Zwigoff finds the most success. Despite the unfair stereotypes, the audience can’t help but laugh at the increasingly neurotic characters. And even when the director starts to squeeze in the token love story, the audience is still there absorbed in Clowes’ and Zwigoff’s fantasy world. Unfortunately, it is around this point when the filmmakers seem to take the story a bit off track. Intermingled with Max’s light-hearted quest for love is a murder mystery that takes the film on a more macabre turn. Adding to this change in tone is Max’s sudden crisis of character. He begins to doubt his talent and his ability to create something original and eventually makes choices that are quite tragic, even if Zwigoff doesn’t present them this way.
Ultimately the audience is left trying to decide what’s a joke and what isn’t in “Art School Confidential.” Whatever decision one makes, it seems like the wrong one. The film would have worked better as a straight comedy or drama, but Zwigoff never seems to want to commit to either one, and the movie and the audience end up struggling to decipher its code. Still, the film is worth watching, especially if you are a fan of “Ghost World,” particularly the art class scenes from that film, which were an obvious inspiration for this movie. And “Art School” also features some great performances by John Malkovich as a bitter, unsuccessful artist forced to teach, and smaller roles played by Angelica Huston and Jim Broadbent are also worth looking for, even if they are jumbled into a well-meaning, but ultimately flawed, film.