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NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by Maxmorphos.
The movie opens and we see a young Jerome getting beaten down by a couple of bullies in grade school. Hes shown later drawing the bullies getting a toilets 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, isnt 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 whos 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 Yorks 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; theres a few laughs found here, such as a wannabe barefoot boho girl stepping in a pile of broken glass.
Were introduced to Jeromes 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 hes 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 Jeromes still a virgin, he gives him advice on what sort of girls to hook up with. Were 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 Jeromes 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 its 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 Jeromes 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 Jeromes frustration. Jerome tries to imitate Jonahs style, which only earns him more tongue-lashing from his classmates. Worse yet, beginning with an incident at the schools Halloween party, its 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 Jeromes aspirations, saying that making it in the art world is all about sucking cock. Jerome, however, slowly begins to take on Jimmys misanthropic attitude, at one point spouting off in class about how humanity isnt 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, its obvious that Sandis exhibit didnt 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 ones life is only enjoyable when every form of misery has become meaningless. Jerome asks Jimmy to kill him in passing, and Jimmys eyes light upby this point, its pretty obvious that he is the Strathmore Strangler. Jimmy sends Jerome away with one of his paintingsa 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 Jimmys paintings, which he ties together with a segment of rope in Jimmys art room (!) and takes off with after leaving a lit cigarette on Jimmys apartment floor (important later).
The day for evaluations come, and Jerome has thrown out most of his own work and puts up Jimmys paintings instead. His classmates gather to see them, but quickly dismiss them to his face, and everyone is all over Jonahs 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 cigarettethe 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 Vinces film project en route to Broadway Bobs with Audrey. After seeing Jimmys paintings that Jerome put up in the gallery, Jonah and the police are hot on Jeromes 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.