REVIEW: Boogie Woogie's Art-World Satire Sails Wide of the Mark
An art-world goof with credibility and characters to burn, Boogie Woogie is that curious indie animal that combines a can't-miss cast and roaring, Altman-esque ambitions, only to barely squeak into theaters.
Based on artist and gallery director Danny Moynihan's 2000 novel (which Moynihan adapted into the screenplay, aptly switching the setting from early '90s New York to contemporary London), Boogie Woogie moves at an admirably nasty clip for a film so loaded down with old satiric saws (shocker: the art world is full of greedy assholes). Yet it can't quite deliver on the furious fun promised by the title. Determined to condense Moynihan's decades in the masterpiece-lined trenches into a sleek, spoofing machine, first-time feature director Duncan Ward doesn't generate enough in the way of either farce or character to hold his sprawling ensemble piece together. Its main problem, ironically enough, is one of curation.
Calling in, it would seem, every favor earned in those trenches, Boogie Woogie was itself curated by London superstar Damien Hirst, whose own brashly morbid pieces are featured heavily. The title refers to a rare Mondrian at the heart of a bidding war between two art dealers, the Dickensian Art Spindle (Danny Huston) and Bob Maclestone (Stellan Skarsgård ). Double-dealing between the two of them is a striver named Beth Freemantle (the relentlessly photogenic Heather Graham), who uses her position as an assistant to the former to leverage her leap from lover to business partner of the latter. The owner of the Mondrian, a stubborn duffer played by Christopher Lee, refuses to part with the painting on personal grounds, despite the strategizing of his wife (Joanna Lumley), who sees their fortune fading. Although we hear several times that Lee bought the painting from the artist himself, whom he considered a friend, the story behind the exchange -- presumably a good one -- is never told. It's an omission that could be purposeful (the notion of legacy and context buried by mercenary wars) but winds up feeling, alongside the film's jumble of less salient details, a little haphazard.
Also lost along the way is the motivation of a young hustler named Paige (Amanda Seyfried), who infiltrates Spindle's office with lots of dark, loaded looks and a glancing reference to her father's financial downfall on their watch. What seems to be the set-up for score settling quickly dissolves into Paige fielding the usual passes (made by both Art and Bob, the latter with more success) and replacing the old model (Bob's wife Jean is played by Gillian Anderson, who dusts off her House of Mirth accent and embodies a kind of inverted hysteria) with something new.
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