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May 2006

Art School Confidential Review

By Kam Williams

Art School Confidential Review

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Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Producers: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich and Russ Smith
Screenwriters: Daniel Clowes (based on the comic book by Daniel Clowes)
Cast: Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Matt Keeslar, Steve Buscemi and Anjelica Huston
Rated R for nudity, profanity, violences and sexual references.
Running time: 102 minutes
   

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Freshman Adjusts to Campus Life in Teen Angst Adventure

In 2001, director Terry Zwigoff's adaptation of Daniel Clowes' comic book Ghost World top this critics annual Top 10 List. That caustic coming-of-age masterpiece featured Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch as a couple of unpopular, aimless high school grads with nothing going for them other than their acerbic wit.

Now Zwigoff and Clowes have collaborated on Art School Confidential another teen angst adventure based on an illustrated story by the latter. The film stars Max Minghella as Jerome, a fresh-scrubbed freshman from the sticks about to matriculate at Strathmore Art School in New York City, where he expects to blossom into the next Picasso. But Jerome's na´ve notions are dashed almost as soon as he arrives, because he's befriended by Bardo (Joel Moore), a cynic who easily exposes all of the phoniness, pseudo-sophistication and politics which govern the art world. In addition, there's a serial killer loose on campus, dubbed the Strathmore Strangler, an unsettling development which doesn't make Jerome's adjustment any easier.

His classmates tend to be one of several stereotypes, ranging from the angry lesbian to the boring blowhard to the vegan to the beatnik to the perennial drop-out to the empty-nest mom. And the professors there (Angelica Huston and John Malkovich), the local art gallery owner (Steve Buscemi) and the embittered, alcoholic alumnus (Jim Broadbent) are all equally quirky. Jerome's semester is salvaged by Audrey (Sylvia Myles), the nude model falls in lust with from the moment she sheds her robe in his studio class. For not only is she beautiful, responsive, and supportive of his aspirations, but her father (Michael Shamus Wiles) happens to be a famous pop artist whose work Jerome admires.

Art School Confidential is an ingenious satire of the pretentious mindset of the elitist art world from the perspective of a rapidly-disillusioned kid who had no idea what he was getting into. Besides the scathing indictment of the art establishment, remember there an unsolved murder case lurking in the shadows. Engaging, intelligent, irreverent and unpredictable, though not quite as good as Ghost World. But not very far removed either.

Excellent (4 stars)