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Why Don't Critics Like the Acerbically Gifted "Art School Confidential"?

by Anthony Kaufman
May 5, 2006 5:34 AM
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"Art School Confidential," the wickedly acerbic new film from Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes, has gotten a bad rap. While the Village Voice blames the film's poor Sundance reception on the film's too-close-to-home themes of poseur auteurism, I'd have thought most film critics would have appreciated the black humor and art-world send-up. The movie's skewering of art-school stereotypes is spot-on, and the latter half -- in which a strangler ratchets up the plot to hyperbolic movie-level proportions -- is nearly as clever in its knowing attack on film genre tactics.

It's an odd movie, to be sure, but funny, piercing, and especially resonant for sensitive guys who once pined away for their art-girl ideal. And in a few startling scenes, Jim Broadbent, as a wasting-away alcoholic former art-school grad, knocks out the humor like a heavyweight, revealing painful scars deeper than most of Sundance's "dramas." I wonder if critics can't take the film's central message: that most art is phoney, most artists are phonier, and that art, in general, is impossible to judge. Like the art teachers who give meaningless grades to their students' projects, critics may see an uncomfortable similarity.

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