Collectively, satires of 50s American suburbia, Washington politics, and the art world, the latter being the subject of Duncan Ward’s Boogie Woogie, could form a new sub-genre called “Shooting Fish In a Barrel.” Last year’s hilariously raucous In The Loop proved that funny and original results are possible if you take a few chances, but a majority of the films within this grouping are content to merely take the easy shots and hope no one notices that the fish were already dead. Unfortunately, even with a cast from Gillian Anderson and Charlotte Rampling to Stellan Skarsgard and Danny Huston, Boogie Woogie’s banal, faux-edgy take on the troubling entanglement of commerce and art falls mostly flat. It has the greedy sleazeball, the starving artist, the back-stabbing ladder climber, the disengaged couple having an affair, and a handful of other clichés upon which its laurels rest. Yet aside from the video art project, which gives the film some type of contemporary bite, it remains a toothless and unadventurous examination of everything we’ve seen before. Every piece is perfectly in its place, but that predictability is part of its problem.
Using the now-pervasive multi-strand narrative structure to follow several artists and dealers whose paths frequently cross, Boogie Woogie takes it biggest shots at the art world through the increasingly conniving Elaine (played to chilling effect by Jaime Winstone, in the film’s lone interesting performance), whose project involves filming nearly every second of her waking life as she manipulates those around her to provoke emotional outbursts. And even this sometimes sharp accusation of the vapidity of certain modern art seems dated in an age where the handycam film has worked itself all the way up from personal diary to mainstream genre films. Indeed, a film that sees this as a cutting-edge art project is one that is clearly uninterested in the intricacies of the modern art scene, but only in shuffling out the tired tropes and characters we’ve all seen before, going through the motions of showing us how money trumps all. The film’s other threads involving the titular painting, a long-cherished work that everyone tries to pry away from its elderly indebted owner, offer little in the way of insight or depth, spinning their wheels as the all-too-familiar characters act in unsurprisingly clichéd ways.
I don’t begrudge Boogie Woogie’s attacks on the art scene for its pretension, greed, and self-aggrandizement run rampant; I begrudge the fact that the film is guilty of these very same things. Danny Huston’s covetous Art Spindle, Jack Huston’s sex-craved artist, and the aforementioned Elaine are all emblematic of the film’s shallowness and one-dimensionality. By presenting them naturalistically, it purports to be a revealing, in-depth exposé, when neither its characters nor the world they inhabit are explored in any real depth. They are instead presented as permanent and immutable, the embodiment of individual characteristics, rather than living, breathing people working within a system that has its own ebbs and flows. Its pedantry is stifling and ultimately leads to a film that is sluggish, insufferable, and both unwilling and unable to truly grapple with any of the issues it presents.