In Art School Confidential, director Terry Zwigoff returns to a theme from his films Crumb and Ghost World: the isolation of sensitive people whose interests and work are under-appreciated in a vacuous contemporary world.
The film is Zwigoff's second adaptation of a comic story by Daniel Clowes, after Ghost World, for which they shared an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2002.
Art School Confidential follows a talented young artist Jerome Platz (Max Minghella) as he escapes from high school to a tiny East Coast art school. Here the boyish freshman's ambition is to become the world's greatest artist, like his hero Picasso.
Unfortunately, the beauty and craft of Jerome's portraiture are not appreciated in an anything-goes art class that he finds bewildering and bogus. Neither his harsh judgments of his classmates' efforts or his later attempts to create pseudo-art of his own win him any admirers.
But Jerome does attract the attentions of his dream girl - the stunning and sophisticated Audrey (Sophia Myles) - an artist's model and daughter of a celebrated artist. Rejecting the affectations of the local art scene, Audrey is drawn to Jerome's sincerity.
When Audrey shifts her attentions to Jonah (Matt Keeslar), a hunky painter who becomes the school's latest art star, Jerome is heartbroken. Desperate, he concocts a risky plan to make a name for himself and win her back.
Filling out Jerome's world are a host of offbeat characters, including: a quirky art teacher (John Malkovich) who takes an extra-curricular interest in Jerome; a failed artist (Jim Broadbent), drowning in alcohol and self-pity; a regal art history professor (Anjelica Huston) Jerome tries to influence; a coffee shop owner-cum-art impresario (Steve Buscemi) swelling with self-importance; a worldly classmate (Joel David Moore), who introduces Jerome in the intricate mores of campus life; and Jerome's filmmaker roommate (Ethan Suplee), exploding with energy to create a cinematic masterpiece.