Director: Duncan Ward
Writer: Daniel Moynihan
Starring: Danny Huston, Stellan Skarsgard, Heather Graham, Amanda Seyfried, Alan Cumming
Cinematographer: John Mathieson
Studio/Run Time: IFC Films, 94 min.
Star-splashed artworld spoof is only skin-deep
Can the world ever have too much Amanda Seyfried on roller skates? I think not. Seyfried, a prolific young actress whose ubiquity recently prompted some wit on Twitter to dub her “the Gene Hackman of her generation,” turns up as a source of temptation in Boogie Woogie, a star-studded comedy of manners set in the London art scene of the ‘90s. It’s a small role, offering a fleeting bit of nudge-nudge, which is pretty much all you can expect from this exercise in arched brows and raised hems.
Adapted by its author from a roman-a-clef about the preceding 1980s art boom in New York City and directed by Duncan Wood in his feature debut, this satire travels easily across the pond, from Julian Schnabel’s smashed crockery to Damien Hirst’s six-figure spin art. You don’t even have to be an Artforum subscriber to recognize all the archetypes. Danny Huston is a puffed-up kingpin of the gallery set, and Stellan Skarsgård is his best friend and client, a collector whose notion of loyalty—like nearly everyone else in this demimonde—is relative to what he might gain: whether it’s sexual favors from woman, a priceless canvas, or the sheer devilish delight of one-upping a rival. Between them and their backstabbing quest to acquire a rare Mondrian (hence the movie’s title, which alludes to “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” the abstract painter’s final work) are a batch of characters, each cheating and screwing their way up (or down) the proverbial food chain.
This casting agent’s wet dream is populated with Heather Graham as Huston’s gallery director, who’s about to jump ship with her lover, Skarsgård; Russell Brand lookalike Jack Huston as Graham’s boyfriend, a scruffy young conceptual artist who hits on anything wearing pants, which includes … Gillian Anderson as Skarsgård’s sexually frustrated wife. But that’s OK because Graham suddenly finds herself getting lesbianized by her hot discovery, a womanizing video artist played by Jaime Winstone, whose gay BFF Alan Cumming gets very upset when he’s cut out of the loop.
Everyone’s libido is as feverish as their ambition, and the exaggerated, capital-T Theatrical acting style that prevails with few notable exceptions (Skarsgård, who brings a knowing, subtly shaded air to his grey-wolf role apparently didn’t get the memo; nor did Christoper Lee’s cranky old invalid, whose wife Joanna Lumley is scheming with their butler to sell the Mondrian out from under his stubborn grip). I know: That’s the idea. But the performances are so often transparently artificial that they make the story even fluffier than it already is. Boogie Woogie’s producers may have thought they were doing a Robert Altman, but what they got was Sex in the City (as art-directed by Damien Hirst).
Cue Seyfried in roller skates.