Apr 21, 2010

Film Review

DIR: Duncan Ward
CAST: Danny Huston, Gillian Anderson, Stellan Skarsgard,
Heather Graham, Jamie Winstone, Alan Cumming

Before I launch into my thoughts on this satire on the modern Brit Art scene I should probably clarify my position on modern art. By and large, I don’t get it. Now, that’s not to say that I assume it’s all rubbish but while I can see the layers upon layers of meaning in, say, the incredible shot of Kathleen Byron putting on lipstick at the end of Black Narcissus, I struggle to see the artistry or meaning in a pile of bricks, or running Psycho really slowly so it lasts 24 hours, or in the painting around which Boogie Woogie centres. To me it just looks like black lines on a white background, with one square coloured in in yellow. Great, but honestly, I don’t see the artistry in it for one second, doesn’t mean it isn’t there, just that it’s not for me.

By the same token, if you are into modern art, if you are part of that scene, Boogie Woogie may be cutting, incisive, clever and hilariously funny. From where I’m standing, as that painting looks like a few lines and a yellow square, Boogie Woogie looks like an irritating, desperately unfunny, smugly pleased with itself piece of shit. My GOD but it’s annoying. Okay, maybe that’s the essence of its satire, maybe it’s making fun of the pretentious nature of the art scene, but if that’s what it’s doing, well, it’s failing, because it isn’t funny or clever, there’s no skewering of pretentiously fashionable Londoners here that isn’t done better (and faster) in Private Eye’s It’s Grim Up North London comic strip, it’s not even really clear if any of it is meant as a joke.

This isn’t to say that Boogie Woogie isn’t funny, just that isn’t funny for the right reasons. For example, the two contenders for the worst performance prize; Gillian Anderson (as a rich socialite who loves her art more than her husband, played by Stellan Skarsgard) and Danny Huston (as an art dealer whose laugh made me want to strangle him), are both hilariously bad. Anderson’s accent is note perfect, but that aside she’s titanically terrible, giving a performance so huge that I’m sure you can be irritated by it from space. Her wooden spoon moment comes when she realises the husband she’s divorcing has sold their entire art collection as she screams “The art”, the way that a mother might scream “the baby” on seeing it run over. Huston, usually so good, has clearly been directed to give this teeth-grindingly annoying performance, typified by the fingernails down the blackboard sound of his “ha-ha” laugh, which occurs roughly every 2.5 seconds when he’s on screen, which is for a good hour of this crap. The last time a laugh was so annoying and ill used was when Vince Vaughn followed his every line as Norman Bates with that fey “tee-hee”.

The rest of the cast is little better. Alan Cumming overacts outrageously as the agent video artist Jamie Winstone chucks the minute she gets a show, Stellan Skarsgard seems half asleep as Anderson’s husband. Amanda Seyfried has little to do, in a role that seems to have suffered in the editing room (though, small blessings, this means we don’t see her make out with Skarsgard, who was one of her possible fathers in Mamma Mia) and there are similarly dull, if not bad, turns from Christopher Lee and Joanna Lumley as the formerly rich owners of the titular painting. Jamie Winstone is okay as the lesbian video artist, though her character is as dull, pretentious and annoying as all the rest and the angelic Heather Graham, still unreasonably beautiful at 40, is almost good as Huston’s secretary who wants to open her own gallery. Their (very brief, and pretty tame) lesbian sex scene is perhaps the only thing in this film worth seeing on its own merits.

Don’t go and see Boogie Woogie. It’s shit. But when it comes out on DVD (on MONDAY) rent a copy, get some witty mates round, and mock it mercilessly. It’s an anti-classic in the making and the only really awful film I’ve seen this year that is at least entertaining in its complete dreadfulness.

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