Plot: Jerome (Max Minghella) is an aspiring artist who has just arrived at Swathmore, an art school that he sees as a stepping stone to his future as one of the greatest artists to ever live, no small ambition. As he has a high opinion of both his own art and his ability to judge art in general, he jumps right in and expects to be an instant star, but that isn’t what happens. His creations are often dismissed and his peers are praised, despite Jerome’s insistence on how banal the work is. At the same time, Jerome begins to fall for Audrey (Sophia Myles), an art model that poses often in his class and some kind of deranged killer stalks the campus. The latter has some folks on edge, but the art must go on and Jerome finds himself pushed aside in favor of Jonah (Matt Keeslar), a new arrival who makes simple, but beloved pieces. Can Jerome prove his strength as an artist, avoid being murdered, and win the girl of his dreams?
Entertainment Value: This movie tries to capture some of the same hipster magic as one of director Terry Zwigoff’s earlier films Ghost World, but feels much less focused and falls short of that picture’s charm. This is mostly due to the narrative, which is muddled and stumbles often, while the characters are fun to watch and the swipes at the art world are well crafted. So while Art School Confidential is no Ghost World, it hits some good notes and has some entertainment value, it is just held back at times by the mediocre main narrative thread. Jerome is also one of the least interesting characters, which could be part of the approach taken, but putting one of the dull characters at the center of the movie is questionable. But when the focus is on side stories or just general character threads, the movie picks up a lot and can be fun to watch, as the dark humor lands often and can be quite ruthless. The supporting characters steal the show to be sure, but the movie is smart enough to give them ample time to shine, which helps compensate for the weak main narrative. So while Art School Confidential is a little inconsistent and has some issues, I think for the most part it is a clever, well crafted burst of dark humor that is worth a look.
As I mentioned before, I wasn’t sold on Max Minghella as the main role here, as he is given the least interesting character and to compound the problem, Minghella doesn’t bring much to the table. I realize these could both be intentional, as he isn’t nearly as charismatic or talented as he believes, but Max is a weak lead and the performance does little to draw interest to the core narrative. He is upstaged by his costars at every turn, but again, that kind of fits in with the movie’s approach, so perhaps that was the desired result. I love John Malkovich here, as he can be so pretentious and ridiculous as times, then super creepy and back again. The scene where he puts his hands on Max’s hands to comfort him is so cringe, just a great scene. And when Malkovich details the decades of struggle to paint his triangles, he plays it so sincere and it is hilarious. Sophia Myles is another memorable presence from Art School Confidential and not just because she strips down. A movie like this needs a muse and she provides a terrific one, so it is easy to see how Max becomes enamored with her. The cast also includes Matt Keeslar, Jim Broadbent, Anjelica Huston, Adam Scott, Ethan Suplee, Joel David Moore, Scott McNairy, and Nick Swardson.
The Disc: This one was released as part of the MVD Marquee Collection and the movie looks good on Blu-ray, with a sharper, more refined look in high definition. The print is clean and detail is strong, though not the kind of razor sharp, eye popping depth some films showcase in HD. But colors are natural and contrast is accurate, so overall, the movie looks quite good in this edition. The extras includes two behind the scenes featurettes, a blooper reel, some deleted scenes, and the film’s trailer.