Art School Confidential

Art School Confidential

Rated 3.0

The satire in Art School Confidential recedes so far back into the action that you might almost think this was some kind of “conceptual art” prank. And, who knows? Maybe it is.

Terry Zwigoff’s drabbed-down presentation of Daniel Clowes’ scenario (adapted from the latter’s 1991 comic book) avoids conventional entertainment so assiduously that the film itself is almost never as sharp or engaging as its own synopsis, before the fact and after.

Less a story than a jokey set of sardonic anecdotes, the film comes across as a hipster spoof of contemporary art, as manifested in academia and the marketplace alike. It’s also a skewed portrait of the-artist-as-young-man, with Max Minghella playing a pseudo-innocent art student whose modest talents and benighted ambitions push him toward some peculiar and broadly ironic forms of calamity.

It helps some that the supporting cast includes John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Anjelica Huston and Steve Buscemi (each playing one of the variously compromised authority figures in the piece). And there’s a tiny bit of pleasant surprise in the belated recognition that a facetious-looking subplot involving a serial killer actually has some real bearing on the Minghella character’s increasingly errant careerism.

Zwigoff’s wry detachment and dark humor yielded up surprising layers of emotion and insight in Crumb, his haunting documentary about another kind of artist, as well as in Ghost World, his previous movie collaboration with Clowes. But here the amusements are chiefly cerebral, which makes it funnier than Bad Santa (Zwigoff’s other offbeat comedy feature) but still not especially satisfying.