In an alternate dimension and a parallel universe, I am an artist. Instead of going to university for liberal arts with for all practical intents and purposes a minor in pre-med sciences, I would have graduated with a B.F.A. I like to paint and draw, and some people think I am good at it.
And I thank my lucky stars, having seen this film, that I did not.
The commercial for this film sold me. In it, the protagonist, would-be best artist of the 21st century Jerome, is on a date with a stereotypical black-haired bohemian girl who is sobbing. A sensitive, kind soul, he reaches out to touch her shoulder comfortingly, and she screams a primal scream of horror at him, startling him. She then starts laughing, albeit in a creepy, almost forced way, reverting to sobbing, demonstrating a roller coaster of hormones and emotion that more than one person I know pointed at and said "I KNOW THAT GIRL."
And at the start of the film, we have the usual "beginning of school at college" jokes - the parents in minivans ogling young beauties, a student accidentally dropping a suitcase (here, a guitar case) to reveal copious amounts of marijuana paraphernalia, etc. and it seems that we're going to see Porky's, art school style.
But what we get in the end is a pitch-perfect parody (sorry, but my major bumped up against the B.F.A. types) of art school and a scathing attack on the art world and by extension the world in general.
The plot, such as it is, is rather simple. Jerome attends college with hopes and dreams of becoming a great artist, and finds that the art world is less about talent and recognition of beauty, than it is about, frankly, bullshit.
He's trying to win the girl of his dreams, beautiful blonde (art) model Audrey (Sophia Miles), but she rapidly leaves him for another student who becomes the darling of the entire class. Unfortunately, there is a serial killer loose on the campus, but this seems to do little more than have many of the characters seeking to make their name and fortune from the situation (the undercover cop wants a big bust, the film student intends on making a cliche shockumentary).
Professor Sandiford, played brilliantly by John Malkovich paints triangles exclusively ("I was one of the first...." boasts Sandiford - later, he tells Jerome it took him 25 years to learn to paint like that). The launching pad to the art world is to be shown in a gallery cum coffeehouse, owned by oily reptilian type Broadway Bob D'Annunzio (played by Steve Buscemi), a foul mouthed schmoozer who takes credit for the work of others. Jerome befriends Jimmy, who not only runs down everyone in the class (there's the vegan holy man, there's the menopausal mom whose last kid has left the nest...) but takes him to meet the local sociopathic recluse who nakedly points out that his future success depends solely on his talent for fellatio. Jimmy has no shame, he steals bottles of wine from gallery openings and has a cutting remark for every situation (which also turns out to be a painfully astute observation).
It's the kind of film that gives you the snippy but obvious inside joke (the fashion student who everyone knows is gay, except him - the film student wearing "Film Threat" T-shirts and dressing like Kevin Smith). It then gives you a much more clever joke, like the student disdainfully saying that he doesn't do his assignments because his work is not about form, line, colour or composition, but about "the creative process" to which Malkovich deadpans "I can see that". There's also some "I know that guy" jokes, such as the creepy male model who keeps shoving his genitals at pretty girls, the denim shirt wearing art teacher with the strangely androgynous wife, the girl with the strange girlfriend from the past, etc.
The larger, crueller joke is that Jerome is clearly talented, but the class fawns more over juvenile scribbles, the successful artist that they bring in to talk to the college is a derivative smug asshole, and he ends up in a duel of art with a flat, one dimensional painter who turns out (dude, this isn't a spoiler, it's obvious) to be an undercover cop worried he won't fit in but instead is greeted as the Second Coming.
Suffice it to say, the movie winds down with Jerome getting the commercial success he desires, albeit in a very depressing way, and certainly not based on talent, with everyone attempting to cash in on having known him. It's the kind of film where it begins with the professor telling them that if they want to make money, go to banking school - but the rest of the film is each character doing whatever it takes to get his.
The strange thing is, this is also a guy film. The themes in it are very male - the search for sex, for love, the search for professional success, the search for status and the very real competitiveness and combativeness of male existence. In a politically correct and very progressive environment, the men still revert to their masculine natures and talk of the conquest of women in rather raw terms, and get downright grudge-matchy, albeit by proxy. It's the sort of film that works on many many levels, and though it didn't have much commercial success, it's a gem of a movie.