Art school is nothing if not a fun, silly-ass place. You're encouraged to stretch your imagination, look at the world upside-down, and to push every half-baked idea to its furthest possible conclusion. The price of this free-wheeling experimentation, though, is that you're also expected to justify everything intellectually, even if "everything" includes masturbating onto blank canvases or lip-syncing Elvis songs in a box of kitty litter. It's not the actual artwork that makes you look like a jackass, it's using five-dollar words to explain what kitty litter represents in post-colonial America that leaves you looking like a pretentious dolt. This is what Art School Confidential is all about. Sort of.
Teaming up for some of the old Ghost World magic, director Terry Zwigoff and comic artist/writer Daniel Clowes explore post-adolescent ennui once again in this adaptation of Clowes' frequently hilarious (and uncannily accurate) satire of art school pretension.
Max Minghella plays Jerome, a naïve, eunuch-y freshman with a sheltered upbringing and decent drawing skills. Of course, he's unprepared for the onslaught of freaks and misfits that make up an art department: stoners, dykes, teachers who haven't painted in decades, ugly nude models, brainiacs, shoeless hippies, and students so talented that they make you feel like shit just for existing. These scenes of Jerome trying to find his place (and his artistic voice) in the school are some of the most fun, hilarious bits of social satire that I've seen on a big screen in ages. With a terrific supporting cast that includes John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, and Angelica Huston, I spent the first half of the movie thinking that this would certainly be the best comedy of 2006.
And then, the second half struck. There's no accounting for how far off the tracks Art School Confidential gets. A serial murderer is involved, Jerome winds up on the ledge of a high building for reasons never fully explained, and the screenplay loses sight of the fact that it's supposed to be a comedy. Instead of hilarious satire, Clowes and Zwigoff serve up bad subplots and histrionic protagonists. Seems like these two need to go back (wait for it) to the drawing board!