Painting a funny – and nude – portrait

‘Art School Confidential’ tells – and shows – all

Tatum Fjerstad

Films are chock full of over-stimulation. There are the car chases, the special effects and, in comedies, the gross-out humor. When a film combines such humor with actual substance, it’s a big deal.

The strange new film “Art School Confidential” manages this with ease – all while being delightfully off-putting.

A gifted young artist, Jerome Platz, leaves high school to attend an East Coast art school. He hopes to become the best artist of the 21st century. So do all his classmates.

The classmates are stereotypical art students. They are drama queens and speak with big words that don’t mean anything. Jerome, however, doesn’t conform to the crap most of them live and breathe. His mentality attracts a beautiful and intelligent young woman who is also the daughter of a famous artist. But then an atypical, studly art student steals her away. This leaves Jerome desperate to find a way to win back her attention.

The film’s plot is based on a comedy by Daniel Clowe. It’s the second of his comics that director Terry Zwigoff has put to film. The first was the quietly idiosyncratic “Ghost World.”

But “Art School Confidential” is anything but quiet. Zwigoff directed “Bad Santa,” an offbeat comedy produced by the Coen brothers. And the dry, crude and borderline offensive humor from “Bad Santa” has more in common with that of “Art School Confidential.”

Within the film’s first half hour, a highly unattractive man poses naked – penis and all – for the students’ drawing convenience. During a break he marches about and then makes a pass at a girl, barely resting his genitals on her drawing table.

It’s hard not to be grossed out by this scene, and it is easy to laugh at this one and others like it. The film knows its audience has seen just about everything there is to see when it comes to comedy. To remedy that, the directors fill the film with cheap humor done in new ways. The weird climax of the plot has substance and catches you off guard.

The cast is a well-oiled machine – with lots of quality talent. John Malkovich, who plays the distracted-but-earnest art teacher, also produced the film and fits easily into his role, as he usually does.

Joel David Moore plays one of Jerome’s buddies much like a young and fresh Jason Lee would. But his character drops out near the middle of the

film. His dry humor and hilarious stereotyping of art students is missed and its absence gives way to the darker part of the film.

On the whole, the supporting actors are far more powerful and entertaining than lead character Jerome, played by Max Minghella. Minghella’s character hardly speaks, and when he does, it usually is cliché. But his friends, teachers and other characters are a riot and deserve more screen time.

The only questionable parts of “Art School Confidential” are a slightly illogical climax, the underaged drinking taking place at bars and the vague-but-promising ending.

That’s art for you, vague but promising.