Directed by Jonathan Parker
For a romantic comedy supposedly set within the subcultures of contemporary art and music, (Untitled) never quite shakes its outsider perspective. Jonathan Parker's version of the art world only briefly and sporadically resembles a real place, and mostly serves as a punch line. Beyond its unconventional niche setting, the film revolves around a familiar love triangle: two brothers, Adrian (Adam Goldberg) the impassioned-though-asexual idealist and contemporary composer, and Josh (Eion Bailey) the mediocre sell-out painter; and Madeleine (Marley Shelton), the Chelsea gallerist who pays her bills selling the latter's work and whom both court half-heartedly. In fact, aside from occasionally clever points scored against the market-driven art economy—like Vinnie Jones as a perpetually-pajama'd Damien Hirst stand-in—one of (Untitled)'s greatest strengths is how it uses its specialized setting to explore a romantic milieu where women dominate.
Aside from the spunky art dealer, every character seems as familiar as a Warhol silkscreen. Shelton's ambitious young gallery director, who alternately yearns to be free of the market and elsewhere seeks to exploit it, remains intriguingly unpredictable until the disappointing end. Goldberg never turns on the charm he wielded in 2 Days in Paris, and broods through every scene with his perpetually grumpy and adversarial demeanor. He logs only a few laughs, most memorably asserting that "melody is a capitalist plot to sell pianos" after a concertgoer complains about his latest bucket-kicking, piano chord-plucking composition. Admittedly, being a contemporary musician must suck, but hey, at least he has a sweet studio in Soho (that would never happen; stick him in Bushwick).
Bailey, meanwhile, is forever pathetic as the middlebrow painter whose work hangs in hotels and hospitals, but never in galleries. An underdeveloped secondary plot involving one of Adrian's musicians (Lucy Punch) dating a clueless collector (Zak Orth) serves mainly to facilitate more jokes about contemporary art. They dine very awkwardly under what might be a Richard Kern video, and then Punch, mortified, collides head-on with a Donald Judd sculpture. With little competition in terms of screen charisma, Jones' bombastic, taxidermy-happy installation artist does a great deal of scene stealing, spouting hackneyed mantras to eager scenesters and hangers-on. "I reinvent myself every day," he barks, as if pitching a new conditioner.
Though Madeleine drives the film through its shortsighted and stereotype-riddled version of the art world, (Untitled) remains loyal to its underwhelming leading bros. Along the way to the regressive and escapist solutions to their problems—none more challenging than that of an intelligent, outspoken and powerful woman, apparently—some of the film's most rewarding and enjoyable details appear only fleetingly. Pulitzer-winning composer David Lang's minimalist avant-garde score contributes more meaning to the film than anything Adrian musters during his fits of righteous indignation. More than facile jokes about the absurdity of contemporary art, the sculptures that Jones' character creates—a taxidermy monkey nuzzling the mouth of a vacuum, a cow draped in pearls—are reflections of the vapid art consumers who clamor for them: lifeless animals swathed in empty signifiers of status and taste. That criticism holds for the film itself. Though (Untitled) sports the lingo, look and locations of the so-called art world, Parker and co-writer Catherine DiNapoli deal mostly in kitsch caricatures of characters who happen to be contemporary artists.
Opens October 23