I had totally forgotten that Dan Gilory’s “Velvet Buzzsaw” was released on Netflix until I scrolled through the streaming giant’s service this past week. I had seen it at its world premiere on January 27th at the Sundance Film Festival.
I remember Gilroy’s satire of the Los Angeles art scene being a crushing disappointment about morally depraved high-brow art dealers. It somewhat started off in deliciously satirical and witty ways but eventually devolved into a mindless slasher film. However, my major quibble with the film was how Gilroy centered his entire plot on such an easy target. The art world has been ridiculed so many times on and off the screen that it should be kept more as a punchline than an unnecessary 2 hour movie.
This is what I wrote in my notes a few weeks back:
The film, which re-teams Gilroy with his “Nightcrawler” stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Renee Russo, is one of the weirdest mashups imaginable of art-world and slasher horror. Paintings of an unknown artist, suddenly found dead, are discovered by an art dealer. In fact, is there an easier target to set your sights on than high-brow art enthusiasts and just the art world in general? Not really, but the film goes there. Regardless, Gilroy seems to revel in shooting darts at these miserable sad sacks of human beings, whereas we just sit back, wondering if we’re supposed to be laughing at Gyllenhaal’s goofball, over-the-top performance or feeling bad that he is involved in such a misguided project. Where’d that “Nightcrawler” magic go?
Gyllenhaal is Morf Vanderwalt, the art critic everybody fears who seems rather confused about his homosexuality, having broken up with a dude, a personal trainer who’s been selling advance peeks at his reviews, Morf decides to shack up with a woman, Josephina (Zawe Ashton), who works for Rhodora Haze (Russo), a power gallery owner who counts on Morf’s reviews to emphasize the positive reputation she has in the art world. Toni Collette as Gretchen, a museum curator who sells her soul to greed to become an art advisor and John Malkovich as Piers, an artist whose muse and artistic creativity has been lost these last few years are underused in roles which don’t require them to stretch their talents all that much.
The set-up is spicy albeit a little too on-the-nose for my tastes, but the narrative spins out of control once Josephina finds a dead neighbor, Ventril Dease, in the hall of her apartment building. The superintendent wants the paintings in the neighbou’s apartment to be trashed, but Josephina finds an abundance of riches, the geezer really knew how to paint. Soon after Morf calls the dead guy’s art “visionary, mesmeric.” Dease did specify in his will that his work must be destroyed. Yeah, fat chance that would happen given the bloodhounds that populate Gilroy’s film.
What we’re left with is an incredibly shot film, Robert Elswit (“There Will Be Blood”) is the DP here, but a sleazy and uninvolving B-level screenplay plowing down our IQ’s in the process. It’s one of those rare breeds that can be disliked by all possible demographics and film contingents, high and low brow tastes will be fuming in distaste. [C-]