Art School Confidential
Written By: Daniel Clowes
Directed By: Terry Zwigoff
US Theatrical Release: January 23, 2006 (Sundance); May 5, 2006 (Sony Pictures Classics)
US DVD Release: October 10, 2006
Running Time: 1:43:01 (28 chapter stops)
Rating: R (For Language Including Sexual References, Nudity, and a Scene of Violence)
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic (Extra Features: 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 non-anamorphic)
Audio: English DD5.1, Spanish DD5.1, Portuguese DD5.1, French DD2.0 (Extra Features: English DD2.0)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese (Extra Features: Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese)
TV-Generated Closed Captions: English (Extra Features: None)
Menus: Not animated.
Packaging: Standard keepcase; no insert.
THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 3.5/5
For decades, teen comedies have focused on the stereotypically geeky competing with the stereotypically jocky for the attentions of girls. With few exceptions, truly weird and artistic types have been relegated to the edges of these stories, appearing in frame just long enough to set up a wisecrack from one of the principals. With Art School Confidential, the creative (and wanna-be creative) kids finally have their own piece of the pie – jocks and academic geeks are nowhere to be found on this campus. It’s reserved for the pretentious, the wacky, and perhaps even a serial killer.
Our entrée to the world of art students is Jerome Platz (Max Minghella), who has always been a bit of an outcast. Although he’s not completely antisocial, he’s more interested in sketching than in mainstream teen activities. (He’s quite interested in girls, but not so much in the stuff that gets their attention.) The end of high school can’t come fast enough, especially when he reads about the Strathmore Institute, a New York art school – it sounds like the perfect place for him.
The reality, of course, does not quite live up to the glossy brochure. Although the students at Strathmore exist outside of the cliques that ruled high school, they have plenty of idiosyncrasies of their own (in most cases, more idiosyncrasy than talent). To his surprise, Jerome doesn't really fit in at Strathmore any more than he did in high school. In fact, he easily antagonizes most of his overly sensitive classmates. The only person who seems to have much interest in befriending him is the cynical Bardo (Joel Moore), whose career path is evident from his first comment to Jerome: "These freshman classes are always the same." Bardo seems to get a kick out of taking Jerome under his wing, grooming him to focus on the pretension and cliché that pervade the halls of the school.
Things soon pick up for Jerome, however, as he finds his muse in the form of Audrey (Sophia Myles), a model for his drawing class. He becomes infatuated at the sight of her -- even before she poses in the buff for the class. She doesn't appear to be a student, nor even an artist, but simply a hanger-on in the local art scene. She is attracted to artistic talent, which is an amazing new experience for Jerome. He actually has a chance with this girl! That is, assuming he doesn't blow it with his awkward personality first.
Jerome's romantic and artistic misadventures aren't the only storyline running through Art School Confidential. What first sounds like an urban legend used to freak out incoming freshmen turns out to be a real, live serial killer dubbed the Strathmore Strangler. A series of murders has been terrorising the campus for some time, with no leads as to the identity of the culprit. More accurately, the murders should be terrorizing the campus, but the only person who seems to pay them any mind is Jerome's loudmouthed roommate Vince (Ethan Suplee), an aspiring filmmaker whose class project is a dramatization of the killings.
As the film progresses, the murder-mystery subplot gradually takes over. Parts of it feel contrived: Why are people still walking around the neighborhood alone at night? Why, with the exception of Vince, is nobody making a big deal out of it? (In fact, the anti-establishment types who populate the school and the local art scene are less than enthusiastic about cooperating with the police, their own safety be damned.) At one point the film suddenly digresses to show one of the violent murders. I presume that the intent of the scene is to show that the killer is really out there, but its tone is highly jarring amidst the cynical comedy and romance. In the end, the tale of the Strangler merges nicely into the commentary on art that the filmmakers are trying to make, but it stumbles a bit along the way.
Art School Confidential is driven by its wacky, cynical characters. Minghella really brings Jerome's awkwardness and frustration to life -- it's easy to believe that he's still learning how to interact with people. Myles' performance feels a bit flat, but that may be intentional. There isn't much to Audrey, who doesn't display any particular talents or interests of her own. Moore and Suplee provide a lot of laughs, as does John Malkovich as Jerome's drawing professor, who's been trying for years to make a name for himself with his triangle art (consider that a literal description). A much darker character is Jimmy (Jim Broadbent, who ironically doesn't pull off an American accent as well as Minghella or Myles do), a graduate of Strathmore who never amounted to anything. If there's one thing that discourages Jerome from following his dream of becoming a Great Artist, it's Jimmy's alcohol-soaked rantings.
For the most part, the film's black comedy works pretty well. It's based partly on writer Daniel Clowes' experiences at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn (as was his comic book serial of the same name), and should appeal especially to those who are personally familiar with the art school types that it skewers. It has its issues, especially surrounding the Strathmore Strangler, but there are enough laughs to overcome them, and in the end it actually has something to say about the nature of art -- something rather cynical, but it's more interesting than what most comedies provide these days.
THE WAY I SEE IT: 4/5
This is a nice-looking disc, showing good detail in the image. Colors are realistic, with a wide range of blacks. Edge enhancement is apparent in some scenes, but other than that, it’s not a processed look. There’s natural-looking film grain, and an occasional small blemish in the source print, and that’s about it.
THE WAY I HEAR IT: 3.5/5
Clear and natural center-channel dialogue dominates the soundtrack. There are occasional surround effects, and the music mix is solid, but it’s not the most active track. It does what it needs to do.
THE SWAG: 1/5 (rating combines quality and quantity)
Making of Art School Confidential (8:27)
This is pretty standard stuff, with brief on-set interview snippets featuring the cast and crew. It’s OK.
Sundance Featurette (7:05) More interview clips, this time from Sundance. Also OK.
Deleted Scenes Twelve deleted scenes are included, running a total of eleven minutes. Most of them are slightly alternate or extended versions of scenes in the film. There are a few choice gags in there.
Additional Scene: Testimonials (1:08) This scene features comments from various characters and fits in at the end of the movie. It’s mildly amusing.
Bloopers and Alternate Takes (4:44) You know what to expect. There are some funny bits.
The trailers for Volver, The Devil And Daniel Webster, and Curse of the Golden Flower play automatically when the disc is inserted. They may be skipped.
- Quinceañera (1:55) (DD2.0; 2.35:1 anamorphic)
- Volver (1:40) (DD5.1; 2.35:1 anamorphic)
- The Quiet (2:01) (DD2.0; 2.35:1 anamorphic)
- American Hardcore (1:56) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 non-anamorphic)
- Friends With Money (1:39) (DD2.0; 2.35:1 anamorphic)
- The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (1:56) (DD2.0; 2.35:1 anamorphic)
- Who Killed The Electric Car? (2:16) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
- Sketches of Frank Gehry (1:58) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
- Caché (2:09) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- The Devil And Daniel Johnston (2:25) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
- Crumb (2:57) (DD2.0; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic)
- Curse of the Golden Flower (1:24) (DD2.0; 2.35:1 anamorphic)
- Stranger Than Fiction (2:37) (DD5.1; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- The Pursuit of Happyness (2:25) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- Marie Antoinette (1:46) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- The Holiday (2:30) (DD5.1; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
The Way I Feel About It: 3.5/5
The Way I See It: 4/5
The Way I Hear It: 3.5/5
The Swag: 1/5
Reactions to Art School Confidential have been mixed. Its dark, cynical humor doesn't appeal to everyone, and the questions it asks may hit some folks where it hurts. It's got a great cast, with even bit parts filled by solid character actors like Steve Buscemi and Angelica Huston (who was wasted on what amounts to little more than a cameo appearance). The disc looks very good and sounds fine, although the special features leave something to be desired. All told, it's not perfect, but the good outweighs the bad. If you're in the mood for something a little offbeat, and your skin isn't too thin when it comes to art, check it out.