"Based on a comic story in Dan Clowes' "Eightball," Art School Confidential follows Jerome (Minghella), an art student who dreams of becoming the greatest artist in the world. Arriving as a freshman at a prestigious East Coast art school filled with every artsy "type" there is, Jerome quickly discovers his affected style and arrogance won't get him very far. When he sees that a clueless jock is attracting the glory rightfully due him, he hatches an all-or-nothing plan to hit it big in the art world and win the heart of the most beautiful girl in the school. "
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The movie opens and we see a young Jerome getting beaten down by a couple of bullies in grade school. He’s shown later drawing the bullies getting a toilet’s contents emptied onto their heads, which only gets him another beating. Flash forward to six years later, and Jerome (Max Minghella), now a graduating high school senior, isn’t doing much better on the social scene; we see him sketching a portrait for a girl with a boyfriend and then being pushed around by some bully who’s forcing him to do his arts projects in class. Jerome shows his friend a brochure for art school…

Strathmore Institute, right in the heart of New York’s shady side. I think at this point the opening credits flash onscreen as we see various misfit freshmen dropped off at their first day of art school; there’s a few laughs found here, such as a wannabe barefoot boho girl stepping in a pile of broken glass.

We’re introduced to Jerome’s two roommates: Matthew (Nick Swardson), a stuck-in-the-closet fashion major, and Vince (Ethan Suplee), a hyper and violence-obsessed film major intent on making some kind of gangster action/horror flick based on a series of recent stranglings near the campus.

From here we see Jerome go to his first class, taught by Professor Sandiford (John Malkovich), who is first seen talking on a cell phone arranging a gallery showing of his own with someone named Lorenzo. Apparently they get to do a nude drawing on the first day…of a long-haired ugly guy. Still, Jerome continues to work even when Sandiford (referred to as Sandi for the most part by the other characters) calls a 5-minute break, and we see that he’s really intent on becoming a great artist.

Soon enough, Bardo (Joel Moore), playing the the wisecracking-streetwise-slacker-sidekick role, steps into the picture, and after finding out that Jerome’s still a virgin, he gives him advice on what sort of girls to hook up with. We’re then treated to a few awkward vignettes of Jerome in various unpleasant scenarios, from a multipolar beatnik girl, to an equally insane freshman girl, to a nymphomaniac with a baby in the other room. Bardo also points out the various personalities in their class: the kiss-ass, the blowhard, the angry lesbian, the vegan holy man/white rasta, and the “weirdo”, Jonah (Matt Keeslar), a new guy who looks like he belongs in an Abercrombie catalog instead of art school.

Class quickly becomes a pain for Jerome; his pretentious, self-obsessed classmates seem preoccupied with praising each others’ paint splatters and chicken scratches, while putting Jerome’s work down as mundane and mechanical.

Jerome soon meets Audrey (Sophia Myles), the model from a picture in the Strathmore brochure. It takes a while, but it’s obvious that she takes a liking to him, even introducing him to her father, an erstwhile artist himself. This is soon followed by a scene at Jerome’s Thanksgiving dinner, where he mentions Audrey as his “girlfriend”, prompting his mother and grandfather to celebrate in the kitchen.

Jonah, the Abercrombie model lookalike, hardly ever has any work to show, and when he does bring something in, it looks like he took some Microsoft clip art and put it on canvas. Nevertheless, Sandi as well as the class lovesit, and overanalyzes the “paintings” with relish, to Jerome’s frustration. Jerome tries to imitate Jonah’s “style”, which only earns him more tongue-lashing from his classmates. Worse yet, beginning with an incident at the school’s Halloween party, it’s apparent that Audrey is beginning to fall for Jonah.

Sometime around here, Bardo introduces Jerome to Jimmy (Jim Broadbent), a bitter drunk living nearby who also happens to be a Strathmore alum. He shoots down Jerome’s aspirations, saying that making it in the art world is all about “sucking cock.” Jerome, however, slowly begins to take on Jimmy’s misanthropic attitude, at one point spouting off in class about how humanity isn’t worth living and should be wiped out by a plague.

As the semester goes on, the students are informed about an upcoming evaluation on December 19th, when they will get their only grade for the class, and possibly earn the distinction of a gallery showing at Broadway Bob (Steve Buscemi)’s coffee shop/café. Everyone works hard at the goal.

Jerome seeks advice from Sandi at his home, and at this point, it’s obvious that Sandi’s exhibit didn’t go too well. His home is adorned with paintings of triangles, which he claims he was “one of the first” to draw. Sandi encourages Jerome to experiment with different styles and ways of life, and Jerome starts delving into various art styles but also picking up smoking/drinking habits along the way. Jerome begs his way into a gallery showing as a bartender to see Audrey, only to run into her and Jonah; this marks something of a turning point in the relationship, as Jerome gives up on Audrey.

A dejected and drunken Jerome pays a visit to Jimmy, who tells him that one’s life is only enjoyable when every form of misery has become meaningless. Jerome asks Jimmy to kill him in passing, and Jimmy’s eyes light up—by this point, it’s pretty obvious that he is the “Strathmore Strangler”. Jimmy sends Jerome away with one of his paintings—a dark portrait of one of the strangled victims with a couple of personal effects glued on.

Jerome tries to use the painting as inspiration, but one night, while going to the art room to practice painting, Jerome sees Jonah taking pictures of the painting Jimmy gave him. Certain that Jonah is trying to copy him, Jerome demands the rest of Jimmy’s paintings, which he ties together with a segment of rope in Jimmy’s art room (!) and takes off with after leaving a lit cigarette on Jimmy’s apartment floor (important later).

The day for evaluations come, and Jerome has thrown out most of his own work and puts up Jimmy’s paintings instead. His classmates gather to see them, but quickly dismiss them to his face, and everyone is all over Jonah’s clip art paintings once again. Jerome is pissed, walks out, tries to go see Jimmy again but sees the building blackened and surrounded by police tape. A passerby tells him the building burned down and everyone inside died, all because of a lit cigarette—the one Jerome left earlier. As it turns out, Jonah is a married undercover cop enrolled at the school to investigate the Strathmore Strangler murders, a cover he blows when he mistakenly tackles an old man working on Vince’s film project en route to Broadway Bob’s with Audrey. After seeing Jimmy’s paintings that Jerome put up in the gallery, Jonah and the police are hot on Jerome’s trail; they tackle him on the roof of a building, mid-pre-suicide soliloquy.

In the aftermath of the incident, Jerome has wound up in jail, where he continues to paint. Oddly enough, he becomes an art world celebrity while in jail, and he chooses to remain even though his lawyer has more than enough evidence to get him out. The movie ends with a rather clichéd kiss-through-the-glass-barrier when Audrey visits Jerome in prison.

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Jonah (Matt Keeslar) turns out to be an undercover detective who suspects Jerome (Max Minghella) of being the Strathmore Strangler. The killer turns out to be Jimmy (Jim Broadbent) who dies in a fire accidentally caused by Jerome while taking Jimmy's paintings.

Jerome is arrested and decides to prolong his stay in prison - though told he could get out at anytime - due to the fact of an art dealer tells him the longer he stays in (and has a lengthy trial), the more fame and fortune Jerome will attain.
Jerome also gets the girl of his dreams.

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