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Art School Confidential

Artfully Sardonic

Woe to the misunderstood, the isolated, the painfully sensitive, the creative, and the awkwardly adolescent. For any who might have had the aforementioned adjectives hurled in their direction, there is a place for them, a place called "Art School" or more specifically, Strathmore Institute.

Strathmore Institute is a place where naïveté, youthful idealism, and money disappear at a staggering pace and talent is in frightfully short supply. Art School Confidential follows the bizarre trajectory of one budding artist, Jerome Platz (Max Minghella) as he journeys towards becoming the next Picasso.

Jerome (Max Minghella) fits the bill as awkward, isolated, and sensitive, but Jerome also happens to have a reasonable amount of talent. Expecting brilliance and enlightenment upon arriving at Strathmore, Jerome instead encounters jaded, washed up professors, basket weaving deadbeats, and a myriad assortment of other clichés.

As if this wasn't enough to deal with, "the Strathmore Strangler" is on the loose providing Jerome and his classmates with occasional grim distractions from their own bloated narcissism. Further complicating Jerome's artistic aspiration is the striking Audrey (Sophia Myles) who promptly becomes an obsession for Jerome.

Director Terry Zwigoff (Bad Santa) reunites with writer Daniel Clowes (Ghost World) in creating the darkly comical world of Art School Confidential. Not surprisingly, the world of Strathmore is sardonic and cynical bearing more than a passing resemblance to Zwigoff and Clowe's brilliant Ghost World.

It's a world rife with shallow vacuity, and the painful plight of the outsider is underscored with hilarity in the film. Zwigoff and Clowes are quite attuned to the pain and comedy that accompanies the journey of the outsider.

Max Minghella is well cast as the talented and sensitive Jerome. While clearly one of the most talented artists in his class, Jerome is continuously flummoxed and frustrated in his attempts to gain recognition for his work, not to mention his attempts to woo the beautiful Audrey. Such is the plight of the artist.

Jerome is far from alone in his seemingly thankless odyssey towards artistic greatness. Jerome's inept filmmaker roommate, Vince (Ethan Suplee) provides ample comic relief in his efforts to emulate Quentin Tarantino. Suplee plays Vince as delightfully blind to the gross lack of talent at his disposal.

John Malkovich also does an excellent job as the elder cynic, Professor Sandiford, who has no interest in any of the students unless they can somehow further his own cause. Rounding out the cast is Jim Broadbent as the creepy and disturbing misanthropic artist, Jimmy.

Art School Confidential succeeds for the most part in providing a plethora of darkly comic moments. But, the tone of the film is somewhat uneven. The first half of the film is comedic in tone as it deconstructs all of the various art school clichés. As the second half of the film begins, the tone darkens considerably as the focus shifts to the murderous Strathmore Strangler. Clowes and Zwigoff's sophomore effort is flawed, but still provides a reasonable amount of sardonic humor.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars