Not so ironically it was at Art school I was recommended Art School Confidential (2006) by another student, not a lecturer. That was probably 7-8 years ago now, that in itself makes me feel old. I looked out for it every time I was browsing and never found a copy to bring home, yes I’m old school. It even looked good from the trailer, which sold me a suggested film that I would ultimately never find. I feel cheated and robbed, mis-sold and bored by it all. I know what Art school is and this was not it. Well it is but it’s not, it’s a collection of cliche’s and trying to be funny about it. Coming from the director of Bad Santa (2002) I thought this would be outrageous and lift the lid on what it’s really like to be an art student. Well in America at least.
Maybe the film has simply just dated, the humour, the content, the whole thing has just lost its power to entertain since it was released 13 years ago. Could it be me who has forgotten what art school is really like, a hot bed of creative talent wanting to make a name for ourselves or is the film just perpetuating the cliche. I suppose to an extent all students on any course hope that their chosen degree will lead to success and fortune, able to lead a successful life. That myth in the UK has long since been blown away. My class was told we would be a success if we even worked at Tesco, allowing us to make work, not exactly my idea of a career but I could see the lecturer’s point, some money coming into supplement the real work. But we all know that you have to keep that wolf at bay constantly.
We don’t even get to the final year of art-school when Jerome (Max Minghella) has dreams of being the best artist in the world. Taking the cliche that all artists are great painters and draftsman, truth is we’re not all painters or draftsman. Personally I don’t have the talent for painting…although I have an idea to push that further. My drawing is far better used mainly for sketches. However it’s not how accomplished you are at these traditional skills it’s what you convey with them. It’s ultimately the concepts and the method of delivery to your chosen audience. Jerome has a history of being bullied, his only outlet is his art, even that got him into trouble at times. He seems to believe that going to his chosen college/university he will meet the girl of his dreams – the model in the prospectus, that’s if she’s still there. Oh the dreams of the young.
When he arrives he free of the bullying but thrown into what is now a concentrated pool of art students who are labelled straight away, from the “militant vegan” to the “macho lesbian” etc. How fast have these terms become offensive in a society that tries to be more inclusive. Sure all sorts that come to an arts degree, yes there are characters in there that ring true but all they’ve done is give these walking cliches a bunch of one hit jokes tailored to their cliche, it’s just lazy. When they have crit group (group discussion) this is where things ring true, eve though it’s set-up rather differently from my course. Here each student hangs and drawing/painting up to be discussed, well with the hopes of being noticed. Jerome hopes they will see his talent, and yes he’s accomplished by there’s nothing that’s truly honest in his work, and arrogant in what he thinks. These sessions are a wake up call to who he is as an artist. Mine were used to discuss up to 3 students work, 3 in a 90 minute session, always constructive in a supportive environment, it was the tutorials that had the potential to be brutal. Every art student goes through this. For dramatic purposes the discussion makes more sense to show how far he has to grown both as an artist and adult.
Frustratingly the lecturers are also drawn to show they have rivalries, which is further from the truth, being part of a smaller supportive community of creatives who are engaged with both the students and fellow artists. The wider commercial world of art is nearer to the truth, there are tiers of artists who get recognition, whilst others look on. But isn’t that life?
Early on he’s followed by the cliche of the student Bardo (Joel David Moore) who changes course every year because he doesn’t know what he wants to do. Again another label, even though he’s the one doing the labelling in the film it really makes for lazy script writing, just pointing and saying you’re this type of person, here are your characteristics. He finally meets the model in the prospectus – Audrey (Sophia Myles) who is surprisingly approachable, even modelling in the second life drawing class. What a lucky guy to meet the woman of your dreams just where you hoped you’d find her, it’s just too good to be true really.
Whilst all this personal struggle is going on at campus there has been a serial killer of a the loose, who has been killing students, we already know that one student was thought to be the killer. Now that added layer is brought forward more. It becomes the source of film student and Jerome’s dorm mate Vince (Ethan Suplee) whose way too old for the role is inspired to make a film based on the events. It’s a tired idea that gets no extra laughs. With all the school shootings that have happened in the last decade it’s now just tasteless
Meanwhile Jerome has found his rival in both the classroom and in love – Jonah (Matt Keeslar) who seems to be getting all the plaudits and Audrey’s attention. Jerome the everyman who has tried hard in his short life so far does all that he can, going to his lecturers for advice and even failed artists who now live as drunks. This is where the obvious twist that brings the murder mystery and the first plot together. As soon as the first clue is revealed its too obvious what is going to happen. At this point it’s just about letting the conclusion draw up all the dots. I hardly laughed through this predictable that did little to remind me of all the fun, the friends I made the experiences I had. It’s more concerned with a few cheap laughs that never land in the first place.