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"Art School Confidential": Artists get the sharp end of a Size 0 brush
Special to The Seattle Times
"Art School Confidential" is as much about failure as it is success. In fact, one of the take-aways from this bitter, perceptive and frequently hilarious satire is that the biggest failures in life can often lead to the greatest success.
Embodying both is Jerome Platz (star-in-the-making Max Minghella), a brooding and darkly earnest freshman at Strathmore Academy. He's been bullied his whole life and is eager to be on his own to become — as he says without a shred of conceit — "the greatest artist of the 21st century."
It turns out that Strathmore isn't the greatest place to get a jump on this career goal. The broken-down campus, somewhere in New York City, is a haven for the worst artist wannabes and losers in the art-school-cliché encyclopedia.
We meet a bunch of them in a brisk title sequence that sets a jolly tone the movie maintains even in its darkest moments (one of the plot threads concerns a serial strangler terrorizing the campus). Later, thanks to Bardo (Joel Moore), a terminally sarcastic student Jerome befriends, the movie gives precise labels to the art-school stereotypes matriculating at Strathmore — Bardo and Jerome included.
The arid cleverness that drives the scene is typical of the wit and insight director Terry Zwigoff and screenwriter Daniel Clowes bring to this comic gem. It lacks the overall precision that bonded their previous collaboration, "Ghost World," but that set a pretty high standard.
Zwigoff has clearly become an essential facilitator for Clowes, using a dry visual style and deft touch to draw fine performances from all his actors (and there are many first-rate small roles throughout).
As Jerome journeys through the heartbreak, failure and unexpected success of his self-discovery at Strathmore, he becomes obsessed with a beautiful model. In Audrey (Sophia Myles), he's found a muse and an entree to tragedy, both of which will propel his artistic career.
Also taking up space in Jerome's angst-ridden adventure is his self-absorbed drawing and painting teacher, played with exquisite relish by John Malkovich. He's utterly believable as a contemptuous failure at both doing and teaching.
Equally as delightful is a grimy turn by Jim Broadbent. He plays one of Strathmore's early alums, now happily sodden with booze, stained undershirts and a series of gruesome paintings hidden in the recesses of his dark hovel.
No matter which is the real imitator, life or art, "Art School Confidential" does its own fine job skewering both.
Ted Fry: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company