The reunion of director Terry Zwigoff with the writer of his Ghost World, graphic novelist Daniel Clowes, seemed to bode well for his recovery from the badness of his Bad Santa. Boding even better, the subject matter -- the lowdown on high art in higher education -- must be one that a graphic artist would have some first-hand experience of. Ghost World itself touched lightly on the subject of art instruction, but the subject awaited a fuller fondling. And if the hoped-for recovery proves to be only partial, it is nevertheless encouraging. The assemblage of characters, plausibly culled from direct observation, has the ring of truth and the tinkle of mirth: the weary, jaded, disappointed, self-deluding, and self-loathing professors ("The faculty is made up of old failures who only teach for the health insurance"), the graduate who measures his success in the art world in dollars alone, the unsuccessful graduate pickled in vodka, and the current undergraduate crop of "walking clichés," the perennial dropout, the constant suck-up ("Professor Okamura, what are some of your favorite Halloween memories?"), the snow jobber who has learned to advance abstruse theory in place of actual work ("I'll buy that," his teacher accedes), the closet homosexual (artistic medium: the sewing machine) who is the last one to recognize his homosexuality, the derivative dead-teenager filmmaker who feels his work is original because he himself has never done it before, and of course the central figure (Max Minghella, a cross between young Tony Perkins and young Richard Thomas), "the class douche bag" in the lexicon of clichés, a sensitive virgin whose goals are to be "the greatest artist of the 21st Century" and, more urgently, to get laid. It is to the credit of Zwigoff and Clowes as satirists that we see the absurdity of the protagonist as much as that of everyone else: an unflattering portrait of the artist as a young man, or vice versa, and an equally unflattering class portrait. The subplot of a serial strangler on campus, quite apart from its triteness, amounts to little more than filler, and very much of a detour. And even when the film stays on point, it does not always make the best use of its time. (In addition to -- or rather, in subtraction from -- all the unimpeachable knowingness, there is also a lot of randomness and cursoriness.) Still, it fills, or fractionally fills, a definite void and a definite need. Sophia Myles, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Steve Buscemi, Anjelica Huston. (2006) — Duncan Shepherd
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