Sunday, May 14, 2006

Art School Confidential

I've gotten plenty of odd stares from people in my life after saying this: "I think Ghost World is a perfect movie." Not the perfect movie, just a perfect movie.

So you'd be right if you thought my expectations were high for the reteaming of comic book artist Daniel Clowes and director Terry Zwigoff for "Art School Confidential." Well, it was a big disappointment, but I'll eventually get over it.

What plot there is centers on young Max Minghella and his adventures, of course, at art school. As they set up early, it's a world of backbiting and misplaced bile, the perfect scenario for satire. But after setting the stage, they dropped the ball completely.

What we are in desperate need of to get the story going here is a hero. Enid from "Ghost World" was perfect because, even though she was one mixed-up chick, she was confident and cool anyway (please, please come back Thora Birch!) Max Minghella's Jerome, on the other hand, is miserable from start to finish, just as we are watching him. As if we needed it, one of Jerome's classmates offers us a guide to the art-world stereotypes in "Confidential." When he gets to Minghella's Jerome, he says: "I've got it: You're the class douche." Exactly, and exactly the problem.

And the art school kids? There was some real potential for humor here, but Clowes and Zwigoff are just too mean for their own good. As they attempt to poke fun at these kids, they seem to be doing it as one of the students themselves would, with a petty paint brush that has no room for even an ounce of empathy.

If you're gonna be mean, you've gotta be funny, in my opinion. As I got bored, I thought back to John Waters' "Pecker," a much-funnier skewering of the art world. And I thought of what Telegraph entertainment writer Maggie Large said about "Ghost World."

She, like I, loved the movie, but after reading the comic book was a little put off because, according to her, Zwigoff basically built up Steve Buscemi's character as a way of putting himself into the movie. Well, I sure wish he would have done that here. Just one character even close to as sympathetic as Buscemi's Seymour would have made this bitter pill a lot sweeter.

To be fair, it's not all bad. There are several very funny scenes from very funny people. John Malkovich is great as an art instructor whose fame is fleeting, and Jim Broadbent is even better as a former student who has long ago gone over the edge. And keep your eyes on Sophia Myles, who played Isolde in the recent adaptation and is supposedly Jerome's love interest in "Art School." It's not her fault that no sparks fly between them, and I think she will do great things in the future.

And Terry Zwigoff will again do great things, probably very soon. Look at the track record: "Bad Santa," "Ghost World" and "Crumb" are among my favorite films. Everyone makes mistakes, and Zwigoff has made his here. Let's all now move on to happier thoughts.


Maxine said...

Sophia Myles was Madame Pompadour in an episode of Dr Who (not yesterday but the week before) in the UK. My teenage daughter is already keen on her because of the Isolde role (but has not seen that movie yet). Both girls and their dad (;-) ) seemed to think SM pretty cool in the Dr Who episode.

Reel Fanatic said...

I knew I had seen her somewhere else .. that was bugging me ... thanks, Maxine

themarina said...

As cheesy as it was, I loved "Tristan and Isolde" and Sophia Myles caught my eye.

I too was disappointed by this movie. I think the potential was there but just wasn't used. I still have to see "Ghost World". I'll add it to the list of things to see.

Reel Fanatic said...

Put it at the top Marina .. I guarantee you will like it

Ray Barker said...


I agree whole-heartedly with all of your comments regarding this film, as well as the other Zwigoff films.

I love "Ghost World" and actually just gave it to my 15 year-old niece, who loves it.

By the way, if you'd be interested in writing for a film review site I created years ago, please contact me.

Reel Fanatic said...

I appreciate the offer Ray, but I have my hands busy just keeping up this site!