MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Art Machine’

art machine

Movie: Art Machine
Directed by: Doug Karr
Starring: Joseph Cross, Jessica Szohr, Joey Lauren Adams

“Through all the confusion, sometimes you find a little more clarity.” If I told you that quote was from (insert title of any coming-of-age movie since ever), you’d probably believe me. But the fact that it’s the final phrase in the closing monologue of a new movie called Art Machine probably tells you all you really need to know about that film.

Art Machine is a familiar story set in an unfamiliar world. Declan Truss is a painting prodigy who has been supporting his mother (Joey Lauren Adams of Chasing Amy, Big Daddy) and sister (Meredith Hagner) through his art since he was six years old. But as he approaches his 18th birthday, that creative well seems to have run dry as expectations for his work to “say something” have risen.

His mother preaches “organization and order” as the sort of environment Declan needs to thrive, but what can an artist possibly say about the world he lives in if he’s been locked inside an art studio his entire life? So naturally, Declan finds new inspiration when he stumbles onto a group of street artists who appear to be holed up in an abandoned warehouse and, especially, a cute girl named Cassandra (Jessica Szohr of Gossip Girl fame) who specializes in burning cryptic messages into the sides of buildings.

I suppose I should mention that one of these artists is played by Christopher Abbott, that dreamy dude who used to be in Girls, but I’m also here to report that he oddly doesn’t have much screen time or dialogue of note. Sorry, ladies, don’t shoot the messenger.

From there, the film runs the gamut of coming-of-age cliches: hallucinogenic drugs, sex, heartbreak, staying out all night, and a parent who just doesn’t understand. Throughout the film, Joseph Cross portrays Declan in one of just two ways:

1. As a grounded, shy, completely uninteresting sheltered teenager whose only connection to the outside world is through the art his mother pressures him to create.

2. As a manic boy genius whose supreme artistic talent is somehow matched by a confidence to create countless works of art overnight after making his crush succumb to his every wish.

This is because about halfway through the film, Declan stops taking his pills (again, against his mom’s wishes) and it’s revealed that Declan is bipolar. Director/co-writer Doug Karr’s depiction of the disease is such that Declan’s tangents begin making us wonder if we’re watching a movie or a reading of an Ultimate Warrior pre-match promo from the ’80s.

If the film has a saving grace, it’s that the performances from the female cast members are particularly strong. Szohr does a nice job of creating a real character out of a mere plot device that was inserted to break Declan out of his creative funk.

The quote I opened this review with is meant as some sort of revelatory statement that somehow ties together everything we just watched for the past 85 minutes, but the film’s denouement gives us no insight on what Deckland has learned or become over the course of his epic breakdown.

In terms of a coming-of-age movie, well, Declan is no Lloyd Dobler. The audience really needs to be able to identify with and relate to our “hero” in order for this sort of story to work. And as a dark comedy that’s trying to offer some sort of commentary on the modern art world, well, it’s just not all that insightful–or funny.

Grade: D+

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