Well Zwigoff is back after the rather astonishing success of Bad Santa with another comedy expertly suited to his style. Art School Confidential is much in the vein of Ghost World as a tale of misguided youth, but this time the lead is a male, and he's just as dorky as a Zwigoff hero could get. Max Minghella plays Jerome, an aspiring artist who is in it for all the wrong reasons. Rather than envisioning himself a rich and successful artist, Jerome envisions himself as a sort of rock star artist, who only wants the fame and acclaim if it can score him chicks. His art is seen early on as his way of trying to get close to girls, but of course he's terribly unsuccessful.
He goes off to art school in NYC where he expects to find some purpose and hopefully a much diferent crowd than he's used to (as he's still getting bullied senior year of high school). All his longings become embodied in Audrey (Sylvia Miles) an artist's daughter and model, who's picture is in the school's brouchure. As every artist needs that "obscure object of desire", she becomes Jerome's. In essence his inspiration, and now he doesn't want glory to get girls, he wants it to get this girl. He's convinced she'll be impressed with his skill and acclaim if only he can get it. Of course we know that this girl has been surrounded by artists all her life and most likely could care less about Jerome's artistic abilities. However the kid is good, and it certainly doesn't hurt him any.
No Zwigoff film can be complete without a cast of eccentrics however, and an art school setting is a perfect backdrop for any cliched hilarious stereotype he wants. There's the self important Tarantino wanna be film student, the "gay" fashion major, the overly emotional bohemian chick, the lifetime student, the ass kisser, ineffectual professor, and of course the perfect looking surprisingly talented rival. Playing with these stereotypes in one scene the entire cast is assigned labels as if to say college life is this cliched and everyone has a role.
I wasn't quite sure what to make of Minghella's performance. He's still a relative newcomer to acting, and this is his first time carrying a film on his own (he previously appeared in Syriana and Bee Season). He does have the guise of someone who has to be nice because he doesn't have too much else going for him. We don't act surprised when we see him bullied, and we know when he talks to girls its going to be akward as hell, but Zwigoff has never been one to shy away from these uncomfortable moments. Minghella does however have a few good scenes, but primarily plays Jerome as a pathetic crybaby making the character seem a little one dimensional.
The rest of the cast is one dimensional, but it works in their favor. The only one with any depth is Jonah (Matt Keeslar), whose character begins as the quiet "normal" guy in class and slowly builds into a vital part of the narrative. Not to say Keeslar delivers a stellar performance, but his role is the most complicated, for obvious reasons if you actually see the movie. However I did enjoy the cast of relatively unknown actors and was a little upset that Jerome's early friend (who I can't for the life of me find a name for) wasn't in it more. The film seemed to lose a lot of steam when he was out, and unfortunately his return was brief and didn't help to pick things back up.
The film is flawed for its cliche's and although funny and entertaining this doesn't bear the same charm as other Zwigoff films.