In '(Untitled),' A Portrait Of The Artist As A Smug Man

Adam Goldberg and Lucy Punch in '(Untitled)' i i

Signal, Meet Noise: Adrian (Adam Goldberg, with Lucy Punch) is an avant-garde sound artist who creates abstract symphonies by breaking glass, popping bubble wrap and such. His audiences, alas, don't embrace his artistic visions. Samuel Goldwyn Films hide caption

itoggle caption Samuel Goldwyn Films
Adam Goldberg and Lucy Punch in '(Untitled)'

Signal, Meet Noise: Adrian (Adam Goldberg, with Lucy Punch) is an avant-garde sound artist who creates abstract symphonies by breaking glass, popping bubble wrap and such. His audiences, alas, don't embrace his artistic visions.

Samuel Goldwyn Films

(Untitled)

  • Director: Jonathan Parker
  • Genre: Comedy, satire
  • Running Time: 96 minutes

Rated R: Language and nude images

With: Adam Goldberg, Marley Shelton, Eion Bailey and Vinnie Jones

The two brothers at the center of Jonathan Parker's art-world chronicle (Untitled) couldn't be more different: Josh (Eion Bailey) is a hugely successful but largely unknown painter. He fetches thousands of dollars for each wispy, inoffensive abstract canvas, but they're all hanging anonymously in hotel lobbies and corporate offices.

His brother Adrian (Adam Goldberg) has a slight edge in the fame department, meanwhile; performances of his avant-garde music at least have his name near the marquee. But attendance at his concerts can be counted on two hands, and the attendees who manage to sit through an entire recital program — of him blowing a duck call into an open piano, say, or tossing a chain into a bucket — only do so to tell him afterward how god-awful it was.

In playing these two off one another and throwing a gallery owner into the mix for romantic conflict, writer-director Parker sets us up for a 90-minute debate on aesthetics and artistic integrity. That's a tedious exercise in any medium, and Parker tries to lighten the mood with satirical jabs at the insular New York art world. As much fodder as the Chelsea gallery culture provides, though, there are really only jokes enough for about 30 minutes of fun. After that, the director falls back on tired debates on the nature of art and commerce — arguments more broadly drawn than Josh's tepid paintings.

It's a shame, because in the film's finer moments, the comedy is inspired. There are elements here of the off-kilter caricatures that the Coen brothers sketch with such skill. The hilarious Damien Hirst parody delivered by the normally thuggish Vinnie Jones — he's playing a celebrated artist with a penchant for taxidermy-inspired pieces — is a particularly welcome surprise.

As Adrian, Goldberg glowers his way through most of the movie, as if his preparation for the role consisted of studying portraits of Beethoven. Adrian is sickened by anything with the ring of emotion or tradition; at one point he growls that harmony is just a capitalist ploy to sell pianos, and when he gets fed up with playing mood music at the restaurants and weddings that pay his bills, he manages to get himself fired in musically spectacular fashions. But the curmudgeonly composer shtick is just that, and it wears thin by the time he blatantly rips off John Cage's famous 4'33", handing his ensemble blank scores to play for the premiere of a lucrative commission. What Cage made profound, Adrian renders petulant.

Adam Goldberg and Marley Shelton in '(Untitled)' i i

When an an attractive gallery owner (Marley Shelton) expresses interest in Adrian, it widens the rift between him and his jealous (but successful) painter brother. Samuel Goldwyn Films hide caption

itoggle caption Samuel Goldwyn Films
Adam Goldberg and Marley Shelton in '(Untitled)'

When an an attractive gallery owner (Marley Shelton) expresses interest in Adrian, it widens the rift between him and his jealous (but successful) painter brother.

Samuel Goldwyn Films

At that point, in fact, all of Parker's characters have become more grating than ingratiating, and some, like a tech tycoon (Zak Orth) trying to diversify his portfolio with an art collection, are simply cartoonish. Parker seems to have a score to settle with art-world pretensions, and in his desire to exact cinematic revenge, what starts out as fun turns vindictive.

(Untitled) does have great moments, particularly in its technical execution — the director began his career as a musician, and his command of sound design is particularly imaginative. But he adds little of note to an already weary debate, and when the brothers reach a state of resigned acceptance about both their own mediocrity and the posturing that surrounds them, we're so emotionally distanced that it's hard to care much.

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