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Art School Confidential

A few years ago, there was a wonderful little movie called Ghost World, written and directed by Terry Zwigoff (Bad Santa, Crumb) based on a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes.  It also starred a then-relative unknown named Scarlett Johansson.  Art School Confidential, based on another graphic novel by Clowes, is their second collaboration.  This time, Clowes adapted his own work.  The film is a satirical look at the world of art, and how ridiculous self-absorbed some artists can be, but gets a little too distracted with plot machinations to be effective.

The viewer sees everything through the eyes of Jerome Platz (Max Minghella, Syriana, Bee Season), a freshman student at the prestigious Strathmore Academy.  Platz is a talented artist (drawing and painting) who also sees art as a way to finally get laid.  After all, famous artists get tons of women.  But Platz is a bit too milquetoast for his own good.  Instead of coming off as earnest and frustrated, he appears boring.  This contrasts with every other student at Strathmore, who are just loony.  The worst insult comes when Jonah (Matt Keeslar, Texas Rangers, Scream 3), a handsome, dim-witted jock (the bane of Platz's existence in high school) garners praise for work that looks like it came from a five-year-old.  Most of the rest of the plot deals with Platz trying to navigate the sea of insanity around him.  It's amusing, but doesn't really contribute to something larger.  And Zwigoff never swoops in for the kill.   He pokes fun at the pretentiousness of the art students, but always seems to be holding back.

Another reason Platz chose Strathmore was because of a beautiful woman he saw in a picture.  Her name is Audrey Baumgartner (Sophia Myles, Tristan + Isolde, Underworld:  Evolution), and Platz swoons when he finally meets her.  He follows her around like a puppy dog and thinks he's in love, but Baumgartner seems oblivious to most of this.  Platz becomes livid when she takes notice of Jonah and begins spending time with him. Platz's character now begins to change.  He becomes jealous, and will do anything to win Baumgartner's affections.

This whole jilted non-lover story is really not that interesting.  Clowes and Zwigoff show how this helps to turn Platz from a true artist into a cynical hack.  However, Minghella (his dad is some guy named Anthony) is still new at acting, and seems a bit more awkward than his character should be at the beginning, and too much like an actor trying to be angry near the end of the film.  Minghella needs to work on his range before he can jump into something like this.  Some of the lesser characters like the horror movie obsessed Vince (Ethan Supplee, Without a Paddle, The Butterfly Effect), in-the-closet Matthew (Nick Swardson, The Benchwarmers, Grandma's Boy), and Professor Sandiford (John Malkovich, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Libertine) are much more amusing, but have parts that are too small to matter.  Expanding their roles would probably make them unfunny.  And worst of all is a subplot about a serial killer terrorizing Strathmore students.  This takes Art School Confidential in direction that dosen't suit it - formula.  The whole appeal of a Zwigoff/Clowes pairing is that they can take weird characters and make them likable.  Here, they take a boring character than surround him with potential, but instead of doing something original, settle for the same thing that everybody else does.  It's disappointing, and the movie shows it.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 42 minutes, Rated R for language including sexual references, nudity, and a scene of violence.

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