Friday, 17 June 2011

Art School Confidential (2006) - Terry Zwigoff

I was in a DVD store in Copenhagen yesterday glancing through the bargain bins (well you never know what might turn up), when something caught my eye. It was a sleeve illustration that was unmistakably by cartoonist Danny Clowes. Back in the day I used to adore Clowes, but for some reason he's dropped off my radar during the past fifteen years. In fact it was only when Ghost World was released that I even started to think about him again. Now for whatever reason Art School Confidential had totally escaped my attention, which is odd since just like Ghost World it was written by Clowes and directed by Terry Zwigoff. So me being me I took the chance, handed over my coins and watched it when I got home.

Along with the above talent is a cast of firm favourites such as John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Anjelica Huston and Steve Buscemi. So Art School Confidential should be a perfect 'quirky American indie comedy drama', the type of film that would appeal to Noah Baumbach fanboys. And for the first half of the film at least that's exactly what it is. Jerome (Max Minghella) makes the big leap from the suburbs to the big city to go to art collage. Jerome's class is populated with typical Clowes grotesques, the greasy haired girl and the pretentious white guy with a 'fro called Eno, being the two that spring to mind most readily. Best of all though is Malkovich as the art teacher who never made it. It all feels a little cliché ridden but being Zwigoff you go with it, after all he's not exactly Mr Hollywood.

Jerome has never been much of a hit with the ladies, so much so that he's still a virgin. So when he meets Audrey (Sophia Myles) he falls head over heels despite the fact that she's well out of his league, it's this storyline that carries us through the first half of the film. Which is all well and good, except that what at first feels like a unimportant sub plot (someone killing off students) soon takes over and becomes the focus for the rest of the film. It's an uncomfortable shift and Zwigoff doesn't manage to pull it off. Leaving Art School Confidential feeling unbalanced and a bit of a mish mash. Plus considering the film is 98 minutes long it's strange just how underdeveloped the characters are, it feels like there was a lot left on the cutting room floor. I don't want to make out that this film is awful, because it's far from that, I laughed a fair bit. It's just that, well…

Maybe it's the fact that the original story (which appeared in Eightball issue 7) was just a few pages of filler, and as such possibly shouldn't have been expanded to a feature length. Maybe it's the complacency that comes with success. Who knows what went wrong? All that matters is that this film is flawed, which is a shame since this really does feel like it should work, but that bolted on murder story really does distract from the original premiss. By the time it's all finished you'll just be happy to get the film out of the DVD player and back onto the shelf, hopefully it'll improve with a second viewing rather than becoming another dust collector. File under coulda been a contender.

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