One goes to the Feel Good Film Festival more for emotional than intellectual stimulation, but there are interesting questions bubbling under the premise of Art House, concerning the nature of art, what makes an artist and how one decides the aesthetic worth of their work. But the film is content to coast through a stock story of slacker students struggling to prove their worth in the face of the comic-evil dean who’s trying to convert their dorm house into a golf-team club house; they must knuckle down and actually make some art in order to save the decades-long tradition of a free space for art students to live and work. It’s a fine concept, such an art-haven, but one can’t help feeling that at least half the students really don’t deserve the cushy set-up.
Mixed in with this are terminally nice house leader Greta Gerwig’s emotional entanglements with house-mate (it takes a while to realise he’s not actually her gay best friend), amusing older (piss-)artist, and with his bo-hunk photographer nephew. Gerwig’s surprisingly shaky early on, but settles into her bland role – no-one is required to exhibit more than two dimensions apart from Chris Beier as the morally ambiguous man candy, and he’s woefully inadequate in even the simplest dialogues.
Despite being second-billed, Iggy Pop takes ages to turn up and is on only fairly good form; what’s more, despite neatly setting up a potentially amusing climactic reappearance the film (or perhaps his schedule) denies us the pleasure. We are also denied the pleasure of seeing much art – Gerwig’s portraits for the final show look quite good, but we see them only obliquely, and most of the other pieces are shown only in part, which seems an odd decision; it’s interesting to wonder if that’s a satirical jab at effort and craft, since the piece that finally saves the house is created by accident, purely through drunken emotional outpouring, with none of skill, intention or concept.
But I’d say that’s unlikely – the film has no interest in the philosophy of aesthetics even on the most basic level; alright, so it’s meant to be fun, entertaining and engaging rather than probing or thought-provoking, but it’s none of those things (compare to the wit of (untitled) or the evocatively-drawn milieu of Unmade Beds), and it’s at least twenty minutes too long.
Postscript: in early moment of try-hard hipness, the film has Gerwig turn on her fifties-style portable record player and the Monks come out. It’s the first track of neither side one nor side two, and the label’s the wrong color. It’s a goof of absolutely no importance beyond being an emblem of the film’s ineffective superficiality. This is not a film that really cares about art.