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Art School Confidential
Reviewed by Dennis Morton

Art School Confidential opens with a grade school bully beating up a much smaller classmate. In the next scene, the victim is earning a measure of quiet revenge by drawing an unflattering portrait of the bully. But the bully finds out and again ruthlessly pummels the young artist, who we now know is named Jerome.
In a sense, these two scenes telegraph perhaps the major message of the film: art can’t save you – the best it can do is provide a temporary respite from a surfeit of suffering. That’s a pretty grim and grown-up message for a film based on a comic book.
The protagonist Jerome is more than complicit in this tale of thwarted dreams. From the beginning, he wants nothing less than to become the greatest artist in the world and to possess the most beautiful woman in the world. Naiveté and ambition make a difficult couple, as Jerome discovers.
And speaking of pummeling, the film itself has not been warmly embraced by most of the critics. Its grim, misanthropic tone is offsetting to most. But I demur. I enjoyed the film the first time I watched it, and even more the second time. And it’s not just the wonderful cast. It isn’t necessary to share the philosophy of a filmmaker or scriptwriter
to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Terry Swigoff & Daniel Clowes, of Ghost World fame, are terrific at what they do. Art School Confidential is a coming of age story told with jaundiced tongue in cheek. Most of the action takes place at Strathmore School Of Art, somewhat famous for churning out trendy artists. I suspect that Swigoff and Clowes have conflated their own characters into Jerome’s savvy art school friend, Bardo, a worldly cynic in the making, played by Joel David Moore. On the first day of classes Bardo points out to Jerome the various types who inhabit the classroom. And he stops with himself, admitting that he, too, is a “living cliché”. So who am I, asks Jerome. That’s the question Art School Confidential spends the rest of the film answering.
Along the way we will encounter narcissism in high and low places, a serial killer, a megalomaniac, preposterous posturing, a complicated case of guilt, at least one first class surprise, and lots of dark hearted laughs.
This movie is filmed on a broad canvas and the portraits range from fine character studies to caricatures. And I don’t think it’s stretching the point, or the canvas, to suggest that Art School Confidential also raises important questions about morality, values, and personal responsibility.
Max Minghella is fine as Jerome. And any film that features Jim Broadbent, Steve Buscemi, Anjelica Huston and John Malkovich as supporting actors is worth a look-see.
For a film with so many characters writ large, there are also a surprising number of subtle moments. Keep your eyes peeled for the class brown nose in one of the party scenes. He’s in costume, and if you blink you’ll miss him. I did, the first time around.
I admit that this movie won’t appeal to everyone, perhaps not even to most. But I enjoyed it, and I’m not a misanthrope. With that caveat, I recommend Art School Confidential, which is playing now at The Delmar Theatre in downtown Santa Cruz.
For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.