In Art School Confidential, Jerome, the teenaged character, played with a becoming mixture of awkwardness and ambition by Max Minghella , spends the first few minutes of the film getting the crap beaten out of him by various bullies. He also can’t get laid because, as he puts it, he has high standards. Indeed, he graduates from High School a virgin, a state that earns him both astonishment and concern from his fellow art students.
But Art School Confidential is not about teen aged angst, primarily. Jerome has a bigger problem. He wants to be an artist, indeed the greatest artist of the 21st Century. A fine ambition to be sure, but Jerome seems to be more in love with the idea of being an artist than creating art. He wants the fame, money, and sex that goes along with being a Picasso rather than the satisfaction of creating beauty for the ages. And that’s kind of a paradox, because he’s the only person depicted in the film who creates pieces that are worth looking at. His style is somewhat akin to the doomed Jack Dawson from that slightly bigger film, Titanic, rather than that of his idol, Picasso. Moat of his fellow students create the sort of art that the layman knows is dreck, but is often afraid to say that it is for fear of being considered a philistine.
Jerome goes to a prestigious, north eastern art school in hopes of picking up a few grains of wisdom that will help him to fulfill his ambition. The problem is that most of his fellow students and many of his teachers are either pretenders or insane or both. Then he runs into the age old problem of it’s not what you know but who you know.
Jerome falls in love with a beautiful artist’s model, played by the enchantingly beautiful Sophia Myles, (the only female worth getting involved with or even knowing.) She is his inspiration, both for his art and for his more carnal ambitions.
John Malkovich plays Jerome’s life drawing teacher, a failed artist himself who does not know it yet. Possibly it’s because he paints nothing but triangles. Jerome does not want to be him, teaching because he can’t do.
Jim Broadbent is a failed artist who is now living in squalor and despair. Jerome seriously does not want to be him.
Anjelia Huston plays the art history teacher and seemingly the only normal person in the film. There’s a wonderful scene when, having been bombarded by her students with snide comments about “dead, white, male artists”, she snappily replies that folks like Michelangelo and Davinci did their best work before they were dead. Unlike, one supposes, rappers.
Throw in a serial killer, and a fiendish plan to become the greatest artist of the 21st Century (or at least the current fashion of this season), and you got a delightfully, snarky little movie that makes the viewer laugh at everything and everyone in it with a mixture of contempt and astonishment.