Art School Confidential reunites Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes, the team that brought to the screen the adaptation of Clowes’ Ghost World, for a satire of art school from an original screenplay by Clowes. The beginning of the film is very amusing with its caricatures of the students and artists who fill the school, such as the action filmmaker, the teacher suck-up, the “those who don’t, teach” faculty, but ultimately the film is unsatisfying because it tries to do so many things that it doesn’t do any of them successfully.
None of the characters are compelling enough to make the audience care what happens to them, which may be something the author is commenting on, but that doesn’t work well in a story. The film’s protagonist, Jerome, a nerdy yet talented artist, is the crux of the problem. For all the story’s plotlines to work, he has to become so self-absorbed with his own desires for success that he is reduced to a very weak and brainless character, which makes him unappealing.
When Jonah, quite possibly the worst artist in the school, becomes all the rage, it boggles Jerome’s mind. He is frustrated and has a talk with his professor, played by John Malkovich, who explains to him the difference between talent and now-ness. An artist can always have talent, but it is forces out of an artist’s control that create now-ness. It is one of the two best scenes in the film about art. The other involves Jim Broadbent as a drunken failure who discusses becoming a whore to be an artist.
Jerome falls in love at first sight with Audrey from her photo on the school’s brochure. They meet and become the worst thing a man can be to a woman he is attracted to: her friend. His heart is broken when Audrey begins to see Jonah just because he is attractive and popular. Jerome fails to realize that is no different than what he did with her, so the viewer has no sympathy for him as he whines and moans about it. Audrey is definitely a beautiful woman, but she is not the only woman on campus.
The film also has a murder-mystery taking place as a rapist/murderer terrorizes the campus. Jerome stumbles upon obvious clues that make the killer’s identity very evident to the audience. It would be understandable if he didn’t care because the clues assist him in his goals, but he is completely unaware of them. He looks like an idiot, causing more damage to his relationship with the viewer.
Art School Confidential closes with a sequence that speaks to the celebrity of art as all the plotlines are tied up too neatly. While I can’t recommend people pay full price to see it in theatres, I wouldn’t completely discourage those with an interest in seeing it. The cast was very good and there are a number of funny scenes. People who lived the artist lifestyle will recognize and identify with a lot that the film presents. There were so many ideas that the film might have been better served as a mini-series to better mine the wealth of material. It took a great deal of talent to make this film, but it has no now-ness.