MOVIE REVIEW ‘(UNTITLED)’ Is a Pleasant Cacophony

… But Is It Art?

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Adam Goldberg as Adrian Jacobs and Marley Shelton as Madeleine Gray in (UNTITLED).
Courtesy Parker Film Company/Samuel Goldwyn Films


Directed by Jonathan Parker

Written by Jonathan Parker and Catherine DiNapoli

Starring Adam Goldberg and Marley Shelton

Rated R

Now Playing

UNTITLED), a new contemporary film by Jonathan Parker, daringly satirizes the sensitive subject of art in modern society. The film, starting from its very title, is odd. It’s evocative like a documentary, humorous like a comedy film, but altogether captivating like a piece of art. Here’s why.

The film cycles between a few quirky characters amidst an awkwardly candid galleria atmosphere. Adrian (Adam Goldberg) is the musician who knows all the classics on the piano but finds true passion in composing music from ripping paper and dropping chains at a precise angle; he maintains a humble audience of seven per show. Josh (Eion Bailey), Adrian’s largely commercially successful brother, paints, dare I say, repetitive impressionistic pieces readily consumed by hospital rooms and hotel lobbies. Marley Shelton plays the unquestionably smart, driven, and sexy Madeleine, who tips the balance between the brothers by inviting Adrian to perform at her gallery, and implicitly demoting Josh to the post of the money-making backroom laborer of her avant-garde establishment. What ensues is one’s trite struggle to be “taken seriously,” another’s to stay true to personal values; one’s climb up the ladder of status, another’s up the ladder of sophistication. Each of these trials is rather mundane by itself. Yet when placed in one mosh pit, the characters are full of conflict, the soundtrack full of dissonance, and the motif of cacophony elucidates perhaps the meaning behind all the fuss.

(UNTITLED) portrays the inner workings of a strange microcosm of the New York contemporary art scene that is largely reflective of the modern art world. The film touches upon a host of buzzwords that crowd the current life of art: exposure vs. uniqueness, “expressing yourself,” personal fulfillment vs. financial viability, and the mother of all relevant inquiries, “But is it art?” What ties all these heavy thematic ideas together is their affinity for controversy. The circle of personalities in the film hold to their own opinions; they are so intensely principled and in line with their visions that any sign of fickleness is seen as artistic license. Such resounding discordance in the characters prompts the audience to consider some of the pressing issues referenced in the film. Disagreement brings doubts, which inevitably lead to questions. What satisfies an artist? How about the collector? Gallery owner? Who dictates the direction of the art scene? And after we decide something is art, then what is its purpose? (UNTITLED) gives you the space to ponder — you figure out what goes inside.

Still, the film is not a documentary; it maintains a consistent, strange satirical humor. No doubt, much comedy comes from caricaturing common perceptions of contemporary art: the outlandish works, pretentious individuals, frivolous attribution of depth to various works. For one, laughter surfaced both in the movie-going audience and in Adrian’s film audience in response to his bizarre musical compositions. But there is also humor in blunt slapstick as well as irony that seeps through awkward situations. This combination of subtle and flamboyant comedy is an invaluable rarity.

Granted, (UNTITLED) does not have flashy cinematography. Instead it rotates through a few minimalist settings. Nor does it project poignant ballads or orchestral resonance. But what’s lost in the lack of traditional appeal to the senses is gained through smart, sassy dialogue. Take Adrian. In response to criticism about his music lacking harmony, what does he say? “Harmony is a capitalist plot to sell pianos!” My jaw dropped — saucy, rapid-fire interactions like this carry the film along. (UNTITLED), with its eccentricity from subject to characters to soundtrack will startle you from the first minute, but it takes a willingness to think and digest all the unorthodox elements of this film to enjoy it to the last.

The tagline is “everyone’s got an opinion.” If you have ever had one about art, (UNTITLED) should prove rewarding.