Boogie Woogie

Take THAT, art world!
Duncan Ward
Danny Huston, Gillian Anderson, Stellan Skargaard, Heather Graham, Christopher Lee
The Setup: 
Ensemble comedy about the mercenary high-end world of art collecting.

This received relatively poor reviews when it was out for being a too-broad satire of the art world, without too much to offer except mud-slinging about how art is now all about collectors buying art as stock and artists' success dependent on hipster cred and connections, not talent. But you know what? I like broad satires. Especially when they convey views I already agree with. And, since I have been entering paintings in juried shows for the past year and being a regular feature of New York contemporary art galleries [as a visitor!], I was kind of interested. And it gave me what I came for, with additional points for having tasty roles for too-little-seen Gillian Anderson and Heather Graham.

This is written by Danny Moynihan, who adapted his own novel of the same name, which will make sense as we go along, as the whole thing seems like a contemporary literature-lite novel, and one particular touch seems like something that doesn't translate well to screen. So we open at the home of Christopher Lee as a man on the brink of death, and owner of a Mondrian painting of the title given to him by the artist himself. Dealer and gallery owner Danny Huston as Art Spindle [get it???] wants it, but Lee doesn't want to sell, despite the protestations of Joanna Lumley as Lee's wife, who says their finances are in dire shape. Art's gallery assistant is Heather Graham as Beth, who is having an affair with wealthy art collector Stellan Skarsgaard as Bob, for whom she just got a boob job and who is promising to fund her own gallery. Bob is married to Gillian Anderson as Jean, one of those art matrons for whom everything is just SOOO stunning and TOO brilliant, and seems unable to see far beyond her own high-end comfort. By the way, did I mention that all of this is taking place in London?

Also involved are Amanda Seyfreyd as Paige, who gets a job at Art's gallery and is sexualized by all the male characters--and the camera itself. Witness the shot in which Paige falls and the director uses it as a reason to shoot directly up Seyfreid's skirt, directly at her panty-clad vajayjay.

Meanwhile Jaime Winstone as narcissistic lesbian artist Elaine videotapes everything and everyone in her life as part of her big art project. Representing her is Alan Cumming as gay curator Dewey, who approaches Art about putting together a show called Deviant Mythologies. Art throws his proposal in the garbage as soon as Dewey is out of the room, where Dewey, who returns for a moment, sees it. Jean goes over to the studio of artist Joe, boyfriend of Beth, who seduces and screws her, causing her to believe that they’re in a “relationship.” Then Beth sees Elaine’s video, thinks it’s “really daring,” and lines her up for a gallery show—but she wants to do it without Dewey, who Elaine quickly promises to drop.

It goes on. Jean leaves Bob. Charlotte Rampling shows up for one scene [better than no Charlotte Rampling at all, I say] to advise Jean to demand all the art in the divorce. Bob then sells it all just to thwart her. Elaine dumps Dewey, fobbing him off by giving him a piece of her art [fittingly, a picture of HER]. He is upset, and when he later stops by, distraught, to tell her off, she stays in the background and videotapes his anguish for part of her piece. Paige turns out to have a half-absorbed congenital twin, which she has removed, and Bob takes and “has Damien make a piece of it,” which he returns to the horrified girl. This, by the way, is the bit I suspected may have worked in the novel, but just seems bizarre and unresonant here. Through all of this, many are trying to get their hands on the Mondrian. Finally, Elaine has her gallery show, where her video piece is a huge hit. It ends with footage of Dewey killing himself over her rejection of him. Then Art approaches Elaine to be in a show he's putting together, called Deviant Mythologies--the show Dewey was trying to pitch to him.

So you see, dealers are just greedy, collectors care only about money, the narcissistic and exploitative end up successful, and those with integrity and loyalty end up screwed. There it is in a nutshell. So, not much new here, but if you already think that stuff and want to have your suspicions confirmed, here you are!

Okay, so the art world is a snake pit. Got it. Nevertheless, I found this movie amusing and was never bored for a second. Yes, all the characters are stereotypes and clichés—hello, it’s a broad satire—so if you can get beyond that, they can be enjoyable. Gillian Anderson gives herself completely to the role of vapid wealthy wife, and doesn’t betray a hint of awareness, which makes her work. This movie reminded me that Heather Graham’s particular brand of “pain trembling behind perkiness” is in short supply these days. Jaime Winstone’s Elaine also buries so deep into her character’s all-consuming narcissism you can actually see it in her eyes. And finally there’s Simon McBurney delivering a perfect performance as Lee’s nosy butler. I always enjoy the work of Danny Huston, and he’s delightful here, if ever-so-slightly TOO over-the-top at times. Everyone else is good. And it’s amusing enough. I’m kind of a sucker for movies about awful people screwing each other over and getting screwed in turn. If that’s what you want, with a special focus on the art world. Go for it! If you’re looking for actual insight, I suggest you go elsewhere.

Should you watch it: 

If you want a broad satire of the art world. If you’re a bitter, struggling artist, this and Haagen-Dazs are exactly what the doctor ordered.