Velvet Buzzsaw has no idea what it wants to be.
The film careens between “biting” satire and mediocre horror with almost reckless abandon, switching tone at the drop of a hat, and with very little warning. That in itself is not a problem however, as it keeps the movie entertaining; for all its faults, the one thing Velvet Buzzsaw can’t be called is boring. The main problem with the movie is the fact that it is almost impossible to care about any of its characters, as none of them actually feel like real people.
The movie centres around Morf Vandewalt, a renowned art critic based in Miami Beach. Morf is enamoured with art, but bored with his own life, especially with his relationship with his boyfriend Ed. This boredom leads him to begin a sexual relationship with his friend and agent Josephina (played by British actress and my personal fave Zawe Ashton). Josephina is responsible for kicking off the main plot of the movie, (and just in time too, as at this point the movie threatens to meander into half-baked “adult” drama), finding a dead artist named Ventril Dease in her apartment block when she goes back to Los Angeles. Her first instinct isn’t a human one, however, as she immediately moves towards capitalising on the work of a dead and clearly troubled man, as opposed to showing any real concern for the situation in front of her. Taking a huge interest in his work, she steals some them in order to show to Morf, who also becomes fascinated by the illegally obtained art. Are these supposed to be our protagonists? They aim to display and popularise the art, showing them in art shows for industry professionals. The paintings garner interest in the art world, and Rhodora Haze (played by Rene Russo) aims to profit off of them. And then strange things start happening around the paintings.
As aforementioned, the characters in this movie are kind of the worst, serving as a supposedly edgy critique on the world of art. The trouble is the satire displayed in this movie is as subtle as a nuclear bomb. None of the characters (Save for Jake Gyllenhaal’s Morf) display any nuance, and for the most part are just awful people, so… why would we root for any of them. The movie, to its credit, is at least interesting enough to not feel like a complete waste of time, however, it just kinda feels soulless throughout its runtime, never really justifying its reason for existing. It doesn’t really say anything original or new, and “art-critic bad” is possibly the most remedial message I’ve seen in a “high-art” movie in quite sometime. The movie clearly wants us to take it more seriously than it is capable of being, and it all ends up being more than a little funny by the end, although I suspect, not in the way the director was intending.
By John Alone