Dan Gilroy analyzes the L.A. art scene with humor and gore.
What is art if it can't be satirized? In Dan Gilroy's latest, Velvet Buzzsaw, the world of contemporary art gets bludgeoned in a gory, stylized thriller.
Gilroy has already proved that Los Angeles is the perfect muse with Nightcrawler. Teaming up with Jake Gyllenhaal again, in Velvet Buzzsaw he sets his sights to the privileged and deranged. Gyllenhaal stars as Morf Vandewalt, an art critic stumbling through his love life. Bored with his boyfriend, he casually enters into an affair with his friend, Josephina (Zawe Ashton).
Josephina steals the paintings of a dead neighbor (I told you it was deranged) and presents them to her boss, Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), a gallery owner. Through the research of the dead artist, it's discovered that his past traumas have seeped into the fibers of his works. Horror ensues.
The film is just as stark and beautiful as a contemporary art museum. From the fashion to the hair and makeup, Gilroy and his team have excelled at creating the world where anything can happen but status reigns supreme. The production design is exquisite, if not unsettling.
Toni Collette, as Gretchen, an art curator, does what she does best. And, the ensemble cast is given a lot of scenery to chew (shoutout to both Ashton and Natalia Dyre for their scene-stealing moments). But, it's Gyllenhaal who gives one of his finest performances, which is saying a lot for an actor who consistently turns in interesting work. It'll be tough for this film to find fandom among the more conservative moviegoing crowd and the Academy and guilds for that matter. But, if there was one performance to be acknowledged, it's the weird and wiry Morf Vandewalt that shines through.
Using pretentiousness as its backbone and respecting both art criticism and the vulnerability in art, Velvet Buzzsaw has a lot to say. There are moments when Gilroy's direction gets in the way and the film's scope feels almost too big, but a clever twist muddles the momentum and brings it back together into the biting romp it is. The film knows it is silly, like a Jeff Koons balloon animal, but also cheeky and cool, also like a Jeff Koons balloon animal.
The horror is never overtly scary, sneering somewhere along the lines of discomfort. But, it's enough of a juxtaposition that the comedy is heightened.
Velvet Buzzsaw wins when it tries less and lets the underlying thoughts be explored.