We all know by now that in the world of art beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But how does your position in life affect your taste? Why is it that artists, patrons, corporations and critics all have such wildly different tastes? (Untitled) tackles those questions head on in this delightfully satiric peek inside the New York art world. In creating his snappy little film writer/director Jonathan Parker (mainly known for his adaptation of Bartleby) has given his audience plenty to chew on and plenty to laugh at. He’s also, sorry to say, used a very sitcom-y set up as a crutch and thoughtlessly crammed a lot of cliches into a brief running time.
But when all is said and done the power of his ideas outweighs (albeit barely) the shortcuts employed in presenting them. The premise involves two brothers who live at opposite ends of the art vs. commerce debate. Adrian (Adam Goldberg) is a chronically depressed "musician" whose performances include him rattling chains, crumpling paper, and, quite literally, kicking the bucket in an effort to create music. Meanwhile his brother Josh (Eion Bailey) just recently struck it rich by selling a collection of his soulless paintings to a nameless company.
By far the best thing about this film is the way that it reveals hidden truths about the art world that most people would never bother to think about. Through a series of messy events Josh’s girlfriend Madeleine (Marley Shelton) decides to show Adrian in her art gallery and then convinces one of her patrons to commission a new piece by him. What’s not to like? Madeleine has persuaded a member of the idle rich to use his excess wealth to subsidize Adrain’s creativity. It matters not that he just plain sucks at composing because he clearly has an intense passion for what he does.
In the opening scene Adrian even goes so far as to tell his brother that if he doesn’t "make it" as an artist in the next few years then he is simply going to off himself. But, as in life, this situation is far more complicated. The only reason that Madeleine’s gallery is sustainable – it specializes in the extreme avant-garde – is because of the cash Josh is bringing in. So without him blatantly selling out, experimental art as a whole would be much worse off than it already is. Some of that message is lost however because Adrain is not exactly a character we can believe in. He spouts amusing lines like "Harmony is just a capitalistic plot to sell pianos." which advances a worldview that is just a few shades too radical. Parker is trading in realism for laughs and the results are a mixed bag.
Listening to Adrain prattle on about how depressed he is and what a visionary artist he is brings back fond memories of John Malkovich in Art School Confidential, a better role in a better movie. The witty dialogue and abundance of one-liners will also conjure up the image of Woody Allen. But this film does manage to stand on its own as a worthwhile investment of your time. Some critics have attacked it for using the dusty "Is it art?" debate as a topic, but they fail to admit that it is a question that hold infinite possibilities.
These two brothers may be broadly painted caricatures but they truly do represent huge segments or our society. All artists would love to be loved by the fans AND the critics, but in a world where Dancing With the Stars is the number one show on TV and Dr. Phil is a bestselling author most will have to choose between success and integrity. This particular film certainly isn’t going to be raking in any mad box office cash so the best that they can hope for is a little love from the critics. It’s something they deserve.
Starring: Adam Goldberg, Eion Bailey, Marley Shelton, Lucy Punch
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Director: Jonathan Parker
Runtime: 96 minutes
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
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