Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Art School Confidential (2006)

Good movies are all alike; every bad movie is bad in its own way. While that doesn’t actually make any sense, what I’m trying to say is that while in my opinion, declaring a movie to be of “good” quality means it’s good to watch, a “bad” movie may be equally entertaining.

You can quibble with my definitions, but such is the case with Art School Confidential, the second collaboration between Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes of Ghost World fame. A muddled mess of genres, motives, and message, the movie follows the rollercoaster career of a first-year Swarthmore drawing and painting student as he navigates a hot drawing model, an unreceptive art world, and John Malkovich. Pretty much everyone’s college experience, right? Along the way, the audience is treated to entertaining stereotypes of art school students and some spot-on in-class discussions about art and theory which are painfully accurate. At the same time, the stereotypes are just the tip of the iceberg of cliché hiding beneath the quirky veneer of the indie-comic names attached to the project. The presence of a certain actor, whose only roles that I’ve ever seen have been psycho-killer or undercover cop or both, does not relieve the situation.

When Ghost World was turned into a movie, the result was different from the comic in the best possible way—it used the comic as a jumping-off point to create something filmic, and the alterations made to the material were all prompted by the new form in which it was being cast. With Art School…, I get the feeling that the comic it was based on was too short to offer Clowes any kind of structure to work around. Although Ghost World the movie was much more streamlined than the book, the movie made sense, as if the medium change forced Clowes to really work at reforming the material. This one feels unconnected, the last act clever but arbitrary. I welcome genre ambiguity, dark comedy, and defied expectations in film. But I also like them to make sense to me in some small way. And this felt wrong.

Nevertheless, I still recommend it. It’s smart, fun, and entertaining. I just didn’t feel like I was watching a movie in the sense of a fully-formed filmic concept—more of a sketch of one with enough great images and arresting shapes to let me forgive the lack of shading.

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