The main target of Art School Confidential, the second collaboration between graphic novelist Daniel Clowes and eccentric filmmaker extraordinaire Terry Zwigoff, is the herd mentality of the art world. This is ironic because most folks in the art world revere both Clowes and Zwigoff based on their past achievements, and will no doubt find something to love about this film, too. Clowes' Ghost World is a brilliant graphic novel that became an even greater work of art when transferred to film via Zwigoff's deft touch. Zwigoff's Crumb, a loving documentary portrait of the irascible cartoonist R. Crumb is an indie film classic. My mind wanted to run with the herd, to hail whatever the two produced next as sharp and funny, offbeat and transgressive, but no such luck, Art School Confidential is a dud.
The film's indictment of art school is not bitter enough. Its portraits of various art school types skewer, but with a dull blade. The film throws out art school clichés for cheap laughs, which have nothing solid to stick to. What was great about Ghost World is that it could make you laugh and then turn around and cram that laugh right back down your throat. That film was almost dangerous. This one is criminally tame. The art school stereotypes are so pathetic, it's not really fair to laugh at them. As targets they are too easy, it's like laughing at the Democrats.
Ultimately, the dualing plots boil down to one really dull love story. Sure, there is a serial strangler on the loose, picking off stray art students. Yes, a young and talented craftsman is constantly overshadowed by another student, whose work is so bad it looks like he is just now learning to draw. Both stories illuminate the hypocrisy of art school, where it's not really about what you've made, but how easily others can project themselves into your work. Ultimately, these plotlines play second fiddle to the main boy-meets-girl story line, wherein our hapless hero falls for the unattainable nude artists' model. Thud! It's a LOVE story. How cute.
Finally, Max Minghella feels like he isn't really engaged by his character, Jerome, an art student whose life long dream of being "the world's greatest artist" is slowly being crushed by the coarse realities of the art world. As such, we don't really care what happens to him. For a moment, it looked like he might even become the serial strangler's next victim and I briefly wished that he would. Sophie Myles has nothing to give as the love interest, perhaps because her caricature (I mean character) was a stick figure sketched on the back of a napkin. Even John Malkovich isn't bitter or biting or sardonic, qualities that have become synonymous with the man's name. His character was sketched in a book of matches that no one strikes. Jim Broadbent and Angelica Huston show up, but are thrown away. What a waste! Zwigoff and Clowes, the two people best qualified to take the art world to task miss their chance by punking out, opting for the lame love story instead of the sharp satire. You want to love it. You really do.
Art School Confidential now playing.