Ever since he was a child in school, Jerome Platz (Max Minghella) wanted to be an artist - his entire formative years were geared towards getting into Art School and becoming, he hoped, as successful as Picasso, both in terms of art and in terms of love life. Although throughout his high school years he was a bullied outsider, by the time he was ready to leave he had made a name for himself and won a tiny measure of affection from his main crush by sketching her; she kept the picture saying that it might be valuable should Jerome become a famous artist after all. But in the pamphlet for the college he hopes to attend, there's a phototgraph of one of the models that has enchanted him more. Who knows, when he reaches his new classes, perhaps he'll meet this woman? And then what might happen?
The screenwriter of this, comic book creator Daniel Clowes, describes art school as the equivalent to him of Oliver Stone's Vietnam years, a period which formed his personality and outlook, but also, from the strength of this version, left him bitter. The film takes its first half to skewer the pretentions of the denizens of the art world, from the lowly students to those far further up the scale, the "one in a hundred" who make a career out of it. Early on, the starry eyed Jerome attends a talk given by such a career artist returning to his old haunts to dish out advice, yet simply ends up insulting everyone until asked the pertinent question, "Why are you such an asshole?" This garners his respect and he answers that he's being true to himself, and this self-serving honensty in turn is awarded a round of applause.
Nobody in the film is treated with much respect, in fact the most sympathetically regarded character is exposed as a fraud and nothing to do with the art world at all. But this attitude can be seen as affectionate ribbing until Jerome and his newly acquired friend Bardo (Joel Moore), who keeps dropping out and reapplying, visit a genuine artist who has hit a downward spiral of failure and alcoholism. He is Jimmy (Jim Broadbent), dispensing his own advice along the lines that there's no point in committing suicide when there's the chance that you could witness a horrible plague afflict humanity. His influence marks a change in Jerome's personality, and this, mixed with the way that his genuine talent is being overlooked in his classes for the more dubious creations of his peers, signals a different mood.
As for the woman from the pamphlet, she is Audrey (Sophia Myles), a life model who Jerome is spellbound by from the moment he gets to draw her with her clothes off - the link between art and getting ahead with the opposite sex (or the same sex, should you be so inclined) is heavily defined here. Yet there's a darker aspect as there's a serial strangler stalking the campus, and this is possibly the weakest element. One of Jerome's roommates (Ethan Suplee) is making a film about it, not terribly skillfully it must be admitted, but this seam of comedy is the most satisfying thing to be said for the plotline as when Jerome is drawn in after his optimism is doused with cynicism, the light touch is replaced with some overbearing twists that contribute a suffocating atmosphere of derision. Perhaps it's true that nobody really knows anything when it comes to art, but this could have been put across less grimly, with the happy-but-not-really ending pointing this up. Music by David Kitay.
American director who worked in a wide variety of menial jobs before directing his first feature, the blues documentary Louie Bluie in 1986. Another documentary, Crumb (1994), was a moving portrait of subversive comic book artist Robert Crumb that won great acclaim, as did his adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ comic Ghost World and the subversive Christmas comedy Bad Santa. He worked again with Clowes to adapt the mocking Art School Confidential.