Early on in Art School Confidential, the snarky Bardo (Joel Moore) helps Jerome Platz (Max Minghella) become acquainted with his Swathmore Institute classmates by labeling each as a walking cliche (i.e., the vegan, the angry lesbian, the kiss-ass, etc.). It's an amusing moment that unfortunately bodes ill for Terry Zwigoff's latest film – what begins as a scabrous satire devolves into ham-handed cliches that sabotage an otherwise darkly humorous work.
Adapted by Daniel Clowes from his comic of the same name, Art School Confidential takes more than a few swipes at the vacuous viciousness of the art world, but can't quite maintain a coherent narrative. As the shy Jerome becomes more comfortable in his surroundings, he takes a liking to model Audrey (Sophia Myles), whose father is an acclaimed Sixties pop artist, and struggles to achieve, well, anything in the rigorous classroom of Professor Sandiford (John Malkovich, who also produced the film).
There's also the matter of the "Swathmore Strangler," a serial killer stalking the campus and offing random victims – the feeble attempts at whodunit take over in the film's latter third (yeah, I know, it's a tongue-in-cheek riff on police procedurals, but it's still inert satire), undermining the wicked sense of humor that fuels much of Art School Confidential.
Much like the somewhat sterile, vaguely plain art that bedevils Jerome in his attempts to become "the greatest artist of the 21st century," Art School Confidential is a flat, overlong exercise in taking down those smarmy art kids a peg or two. While it might be fun for Clowes and Zwigoff, it's downright dull for those in the audience. The DVD
Art School Confidential is presented in a curiously lifeless but nevertheless clean 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer; perfunctorily framed and drained of vivid color, this is an image that doesn't exactly pop but doesn't suffer from any defects. The Audio:
A film fueled by dialogue, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track doesn't get much of a workout, but has a few fleeting moments of surround activity; for the most part, the front three speakers handle the workload here, rendering those sarcastic bon mots with crystal clarity. Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are included, as is a French Dolby 2.0 stereo track, along with English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese subtitles. The Extras:
I was a little disappointed that Clowes and/or Zwigoff (or even any of the actors) couldn't be bothered to sit for a commentary; I would've liked to have heard some of the motivations behind the project. As it is, the relatively indifferent reception to the film is reflected in the paltry supplemental offerings: the eight minute, 27 second "Making of 'Art School Confidential'" goes behind the scenes, as the seven minute, four second "Sundance Featurette" explores the film's reception at the 2006 festival. Twelve deleted scenes are here, playable separately or together for an aggregate of 11 minutes, seven seconds with an additional deleted scene – "Testimonials" – running a minute, eight seconds and apparently too good to be included with the other trimmed sequences. A blooper/alternate take reel, running four minutes, 44 seconds, along with trailers for Quinceanera, Volver, The Quiet, American Hardcore, Friends with Money, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Who Killed The Electric Car?, Sketches of Frank Gehry, Cache, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Crumb, Curse of the Golden Flower, Stranger Than Fiction, The Pursuit of Happyness, Marie Antoinette and The Holiday complete the package. Final Thoughts:
Much like the somewhat sterile, vaguely plain art that bedevils protagonist Jerome Platz in his attempts to become "the greatest artist of the 21st century," Art School Confidential is a flat, overlong exercise in taking down those smarmy art kids a peg or two. While it might be fun for Clowes and Zwigoff, it's downright dull for those in the audience. Those anticipating a film on the level of Ghost World would do well to curb those expectations and give this a rental spin first.
Portions of this review were reprinted from the Oklahoma Gazette.