Adam Goldberg in (Untitled)

Movie Review: “Untitled”

No one could be more unfulfilled than Adrian Jacobs (Adam Goldberg), a composer who fits all the Grand Guignol clichés about provocative contemporary music, and has the tiny audience to match.

Adrians brother Josh (Eion Bailey) is a painter who sells his bland abstract canvases to hang in hotels and doctors offices , but the cutting-edge Chelsea gallery that represents him wont give him a show. Another misunderstood genius.

Like the two brothers, who think theyre brilliant, this send-up isnt as funny as it intends to be. Yet it does have a wry truth or two to offer on the way.

As each brother fights for recognition among snobbish critics and the usual art poseurs, they compete over dealer Madeleine Gray (Marley Shelton).  Chic in white-rimmed glasses and crinkly skirts, she passes over Josh, her cash-cow, to exhibit stuffed animals in sado-masochistic positions by an Australian bully (Vinnie Jones) and ultra-minimalist pushpins and blank sheets by a loner with the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome (Ptolemy Slocum).

Zach Orth and Marley Shelton in (Untitled)

Zach Orth and Marley Shelton in (Untitled)

Like the art here, everyones a broad exaggeration, including a collector awash in computer money whom Madeleine persuades to commission a work by Adrian, whom shes re-branded as a “sound artist.” Sound familiar?

Pompous artists and their dealers are a big easy target, and the prices paid for contemporary art these days lend weight to the absurdity of it all. The credulity of the consumer is another part of the equation. Perhaps its no coincidence, then, that (Untitled) is playing in New York as we move into the two biggest auction weeks of the season.

(Untitled) is filled with of predictable gags, as Goldberg shuffles through frustration after disappointment like a somnolent Woody Allen. Playing Chopin at a rarefied restaurant to pay the bills, hes fired for inflicting one of his own compositions on the customers. (By the way, the original music for the film is by the composer David Lang, who won a Pulitzer Prize. Who better to parody modern music than someone who writes it?) When Madeleine comes to Adrians concert with Josh, and fans herself nonchalantly, Adrian throws a fit onstage and waves a huge American flag in front of her. Harmony, he declares in another moment of angry pomposity, was a plot “to sell pianos.”

Adam Goldberg in (Untitled)

Adam Goldberg in (Untitled)

The films “is that art?” comedy will play better with those who watch the art world from the outside than with those whom know it. The cognoscenti will have heard all the jokes before, and told many of them.

And theyve seen the art thats being lampooned. The work that sells in Madeleines gallery, as you might have imagined, is awful – the worst of it is pretentious taxidermy in the style of Maurizio Cattelan (created by the LA artist Kyle Ng, who might get some clients out of it) . To the outsider, the “sculpture” of a stuffed monkey sucking on the hose of a vacuum cleaner couldnt be more laughable. To the insider, it looks like art fashion victimhood, an object from two years ago, with as much appeal today as a Prada misfire in the back of someones closet.

Dont expect a farcical crescendo here. (Untitled) gets sentimental toward the end, as Adrian and Josh search for a way out of the scene. My taste in satire is, the darker the better. Thats not what we have here. I can only imagine what Peter Sellers might have done with material like this in his heyday. Perhaps even the writers got tired of all the art mockery.

The art world is indeed a circus of unintentional humor, an endless self-parody. Yet its a challenge for fiction writers. Like Jonathan Parker and Catherine Dinapoli, who wrote the script. It takes real imagination to come up with stories and characters that are wilder than what you get if you simply turn on the camera and document people in the art world being themselves.

Write us your thoughts about this post. Play nice.