WATCH IT! (UNTITLED) Smart For Art’s Sake… Movie Review

Smart for Art’s Sake…

       Does any actor convey thirty-something angst better than Adam Goldberg? In (Untitled), as musician Adrian Jacobs, he plays an avant garde “sound artist” whose concerts include an aural assault of ripping paper, breaking glass, kicking a bucket… oh, and piano too.  Adrian has not quite yet, shall we say, “found an audience.” (One character calls his show “forty minutes of pure tedium”.)   As Adrian, Goldberg does not change the expression on his face throughout (Untitled)– even at the end of the movie, when a rare comment of praise from admiring fan should be a cathartic moment.  Adrian’s brother, Josh (Eion Bailey), is a painter whose work is not quite as “out there” as his bro’s–  but like Adrian, he’s also dying to be taken seriously. Enter Madeline (Marley Shelton), a stunning, enigmatic blonde art gallery owner who is committed to displaying only the most renegade artwork.  Josh has feelings for Madeline, but it’s Adrian with whom she embarks on a passionate sexual affair with.  Madeline “understands” Adrian’s musical visions, and recruits him to play at her shows.  Simultaneously, she uses the revenue from Josh’s more commercial paintings while refusing to display his work. (Josh’s work is apparently not exciting or bold enough for her.)  Needless to say, these three characters wind up in a highly charged, emotional triangle.  While the drama unfolds, the audience is swept into the adjacent worlds of art and independent music in downtown New York City, 2009.  It’s a glazed-over bubble of a universe occupied by larger-than-life eccentric characters who debate the difference between art and entertainment, and say things like, “It’s an exciting time in the 20th Century.  No one really owns the art world yet.” and “If the critics hate it, it’s a sign that something interesting is going on!”

     Most of the comedy of (Untitled) comes from those colorful characters– sometimes, colorful to the point of lunacy.  But underneath the comedy, (Untitled)’s creators (writer-director Jonathan Parker and writer-producer Catherine di Napoli) give the audience a smart, sharply-focused look at issues such as compromising your artistic integrity for commercial success (AKA “selling out”), and fighting for your vision till the very end.  Goldberg’s Adrian, for example, is always defending his music as being more than just “noise”.  Many of the characters–especially an over-the-top artist named Ray Barko (Vinnie Jones) who uses stuffed dead animals in his work– may be pretentious, narcissistic, and not always likeable; but while we may laugh, it’s clear that they take their creative visions VERY seriously.  And, as anyone familiar with “the scene” knows, they’re not as fictional as you think.  With Marley Shelton’s noisy, far out wardrobe (Her ensembles are a running “sound gag” in the movie.) and no-nonsense but quirky persona, it’s easy to see her Madeline as an impossible character.  But when the ice queen’s perfectly constructed world shatters and we see her in a more sympathetic light, Shelton’s character– and performance– become no less than a revelation.   With their contrasting acting styles, it’s a delight to see Adam Goldberg (simmeringly retrained) and Eion Bailey (highly animated) spar in their scenes together as equally handsome but very different brothers.

     (Untitled) is now playing.  Visit for more.

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