Art School Confidential
Art School Confidential 2006
2016 is almost over and I’ve come down to my last movie review of the year. I didn’t quite achieve any of my movie related goals that I had set for myself at the beginning of the year. I’ve only seen 9 movies in the theaters, one short of my goal. I haven’t watched every 2016 release, though Max Steel will follow shortly thereafter, and I didn’t get too far on my goal to watch every movie on my list from 2010 and later. But I have watched a large number of superhero and comic book movies. This one is one of those movies that I realized I knew nothing at all about. I knew it was about art school and it was based on a comic by the same author as Ghost World, even the same director. Somehow, I had the impression that it was a generally well-liked film, though when I looked up the various metrics, it actually has a mediocre to below-average consensus. And like several other movies that I’ve watched in the past couple months, it started out with an intriguing premise, but then faltered by the time it came to its conclusion. I tend to be a fan of coming of age movies, and I honestly saw quite a bit of myself in the main character, and then it went into a bizarre downward spiral that just didn’t make any sense any more. It made me laugh, but not enough to recommend it as a comedy.
Art School Confidential opens up like a typical coming-of-age film. Jerome is the main character, he’s the scrawny kid who gets picked on by the bully, but likes to draw funny pictures. When he graduates, he goes to art school where he gains a couple of typical college friends. There’s the comic relief, played by Ethan Suplee who chastises him about his virginity and talks about banging chicks and making his movie. And of course, there’s the other comic relief who’s the lovable loser, he’s dropped out three times and is working on his fourth, but knows the ins and outs of art college life and is willing to take young Jerome under his wing. And of course, there’s the ungettable love interest Audrey, the model who was on the brochure, and just happens to keep running into Jerome and likes him as a “nice guy”. And last of all, there’s the random average joe/pretty boy jock who seems to just be taking the art class as a laugh.
What does tend to work more often than not is the situational comedy throughout the movie. There are plenty of stereotypical characters, but they’re often presented in fun ways. There are plenty of great moments poking fun at art culture in general where Jerome’s class full of art students see the depth and meaning in a seemingly random or amateurish piece of art, while Jerome’s more traditional style is met with condescension. But when Jerome speaks his own mind, and likely the mind of most of the audience, he’s completely shot down by the rest of the class. Jerome as a character is presented in a very realistic way, at least during the first half of the film. He’s the nice guy who’s good, but not great, and he can’t seem to figure out where he fits into his life. He’s the nice guy who gets to spend time with the girl, but he’s too shy to try and get it to the next level before the pretty boy seemingly swoops in to steal her out from under him.
But where the movie takes a turn is when it starts to focus on the serial killer that it has been hinting at ever since Jerome hit the school. It’s a thread that seems minor until it keeps popping up. Jerome’s roommate is making a student film about the killer, and the drunken failure of an art school graduate played by Jim Broadbent seems to have an appreciation for him. And then the turn happens when it’s revealed that Jim Broadbent’s character actually is the killer and has painted all of the victims, complete with attached souvenirs from the crime scenes. Paintings which he eventually gifts to Jerome who passes them off as his own due to his increasing insecurity about his own talent. And finally, Jerome gets what he wants in a weird way when he is accused of being the serial killer himself, but leverages it to promote himself as an artist. It’s an arc that can be appreciated, and knowing where it’s going to go could help inform repeated viewings, but it ultimately felt like it was sidestepping its own point. Jerome felt less like the main character and more like a cog in a machine. While we do get to see his downward spiral as an artist, he never really grew as a character, and he got what he wanted by becoming something unlikable.
The other element of this film is also about the art, and there is plenty of varying styles of art throughout the film. What’s difficult about how much of the art is presented is that there is very much a disconnect with how Jerome sees much of the art and how it’s supposed to be seen. Jerome’s art is a typical sketch style of artwork that looks good, but rarely ever looks amazing. The pretty boy has a very childish and amateurish style of art that the class and teacher go nuts for, but partly because it’s from Jerome’s rival, and partly because it’s supposed to be drawn by an undercover cop posing as an art student, it all comes off as mediocre as well. The same goes for the rest of the art class, which runs the gamut from statement-style non-art to extremely experimental modern art. The only other art worth mentioning is the killer’s art, which are very well done and haunting images which is a stark contrast to some of the laugh out loud comedy that comes across during several points in the film. It’s ultimately a difficult film to get a grasp of. The humor can be incredibly effective, but it’s often few and far between, while the coming-of-age drama starts strong but goes off the deep end once it turns into a bizarre murder mystery. It’s just something that I couldn’t connect with even though I really would have liked to. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.