Terry Zwigoff’s second team-up with Daniel Clowes was poorly received by critics and audiences. It was accused of being misanthropic and obvious in its satire, not to mention side-tracked by a serial killer subplot. But are all those really bad things? Not really. Although it’s not as consistent as Ghost World or Bad Santa, there’s quite a bit to like in Art School Confidential.
The movie is about Jerome, a young man with artistic dreams who gets accepted into art school. Unfortunately, Jerome goes through a series of events that leads him to questioning his future in art, one of which a serial killer on campus who seems to be picking victims at random. Zwigoff casts his movies perfectly, and here Max Minghella gives an excellent performance as Jerome. He’s sweet, vulnerable but he doesn’t back away at all from the character’s flaws, filling the character with humanity. And perhaps this is one of the movie’s biggest failings, all the other characters come off as stereotypes and the movie kind of acknowledge it, but it doesn’t lessen it. Yet, the stereotyping in the movie almost works because for anyone who’s ever set foot on art school, they feel realistic and Zwigoff’s and Clowe’s knack for comedy manages to make it work. But this surely could’ve been a better film with more rounded characters. But also performances from the likes of John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent and Ethan Suplee make the characters stand out better against the way the film presents them.
Yet, everything else in the movie is quite delicious. The movie is never boring, even providing a great twist in the story towards the end. I would have to disagree that the serial killer subplot was unnecessary. Perhaps Zwigoff didn’t need a rather explicit killing scene, but even in a moment like that one, Zwigoff underscores it with classical music, providing a sense of irony that feels appropriate for the movie. And it seems like people don’t quite realize that it’s this subplot that carries the whole film and gives it its pay-off.
Art School Confidential perhaps needed better defined background characters, but for those who love their comedy with a biting, acid taste, this won’t be a big deal. Nevertheless, it’s funny and like all good satire, it rings true, even at its most ridiculous. You can get it on DVD right here.