Art School Confidential
Hoping to achieve the same sort of magic that accompanied their collaborative effort Ghost World (2001), graphic novelist/screenwriter Daniel Clowes and director Terry Zwigoff re-teamed to make Art School Confidential (2006), a semi-autobiographical piece about the pretensions of college art majors. The picture, while very funny, doesn't succeed at either the sort of deeply wrought characterization that marks the rest of Clowes' work nor at the pitch-black, suffering-based humor of Zwigoff's. Unfortunately, the entire film just feels like an extended, very mean joke about how silly art-school students are which is sporadically hilarious if, like this reviewer, you actually did any time in art school, but still comes off as painfully glib. The hero, if you can call him that, is Jerome Platz (Max Minghella), a talented high school grad who's beginning his freshman year as an art major at Strathmore College (the first of many jokes aimed squarely at artists, Strathmore being a manufacturer of mid-priced, mid-quality art supplies). He encounters a perfectly caricatured group of art-school types, like the Angry Lesbian, the Vegan, the Blowhard, and the Soccer Mom, and rooms with a not-very-closeted fashion design major (Nick Swardson). Jerome's fantasies about becoming an artist curdle as he watches burnt-out teachers like cynical Prof. Sandiford (John Malkovich) favor students who are all about concept and attitude but thin on actual talent. He also falls for a lovely artist's model (Sophia Miles) and becomes a confidante of a self-pitying, alcoholic artistic failure (Jim Broadbent). There's a slender thread of a plot that wends its way between all of the bitter pokes at these broadly drawn types, about a serial killer who's preying on students, but it feels like it was engineered by Clowes simply because he was forced to turn his jibes into an actual story. As funny as Art School Confidential can be to those who've visited its rather narrow world, it's something of a one-note joke that's not enough for those who've never taken art classes rather like an angry, bitter rail against the types one would find at barber college or culinary school, the cruel caricatures are mostly lost on people who've never been there themselves. And it doesn't help that Jerome has nothing going for him to make us care about his journey, being perhaps the least interesting and most poorly written character in the entire piece. It's certainly not a terrible film, and it succeeds as a comedy most of the time despite its rather messy, anecdotal framework. But for those hoping for brilliance along the lines of Ghost World or Zwigoff's Crumb and Bad Santa it's something of a letdown.
Sony Pictures Classics' DVD release of Art School Confidential offers a very good anamorphic transfer (1:85.1) mastered in High Definition, with excellent color saturation, crisp blacks, and only a little occasional graininess. The DD 5.1 audio is clean and clear this is a heavily dialogue-driven film, so there's no need for bells and whistles. Oddly, there's no commentary it would have been nice to hear Clowes discuss how his art school experiences inspired specific aspects of the picture, but no such luck. There is, however, a decent "making-of" featurette (8 min.), a featurette on the premiere of the film at Sundance (7 min.), 12 relatively uninteresting deleted scenes, and the requisite outtakes reel. Keep-case.