September 11, 2009

Justify My Netflix: Art School Confidential

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Art School Confidential

Today's movie: Art School Confidential, 2006 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because it's the latest by popular indie filmmaker Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World), written by legendary indie comics artist Daniel Clowes (adapted from his own story, which ran in an early issue of his comic book Eightball), a bitter little black comedy about all the pretentious trust-fund kids who attend art school anymore in these postmodern times.

Art School Confidential comic

The reality: Wow, so where do you even begin describing what went wrong with this noble yet deeply flawed production? Well, I guess you can start with the actual comic this was based on, a bit of which can be viewed above; as you can see, not only does this kind of "did you ever notice this, did you ever notice that" humor work best as a series of extra-quick single-panel jokes, but even Clowes' humor itself is not really the laugh-out-loud kind, but rather the NPR type that makes you nod your head and think to yourself, "Hmm, that was pretty clever." (And in fact, Clowes is much better known for his creepy surrealistic dramas, with his funny pieces always tacked on at the ends of issues as short afterthoughts.) And as we all know, NPR-style "Hmm that was pretty clever" humor simply doesn't translate to the screen very well at all; and especially when you add Zwigoff's rather pedestrian directorial style, which instead of presenting this humor in short punchy bursts does it as lengthy traditional scenes, dragging the jokes out long after the point where they stop being funny (and again, see the clip above for more).

In effect it turns the entire story into this extremely bitter, wrist-slashingly depressing screed against humanity, which is where the second big mistake comes in -- the attempt to add a little mainstream lightness to it all in the form of a traditional love story, which clashes so badly and obviously against the darkness that it seems almost pointless to even bring it to your attention. Not to mention that this still leaves the movie without any kind of good natural ending, which is where the third big mistake comes in -- the inexplicable decision to add a non-ironic thriller subplot to it all, a nonsensical thread about a serial killer stalking the campus which not only defies logic at every turn, but then is used to make a ridiculously hackneyed political point to end it all, the cinematic equivalent of a writer saying, "And then a space alien showed up and killed them all. Ha-ha, f-ck you for being an audience member, ha-ha!" By the end it all adds up to a nearly unwatchable schizophrenic mess, not only a waste of Clowes' true talents but also the time of all the A-list stars who were convinced to put in cameos (including Jon Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Steve Buscemi and Anjelica Huston). Please, please, when is someone going to do a film version of Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron or David Boring, and show us what Clowes is capable of when he's at his best?

Strangest piece of trivia: The "outsider art" paintings displayed by frat-boy Jonah that people go so nuts for are the actual paintings that Clowes himself once did when he was in art school (at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn), back when he thought that conceptual work would get him better grades.

Worth your time? Not in any way whatsoever

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:24 PM, September 11, 2009. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |