The Next Big Thing

2002, Movie, 87 mins


A satire of New York City art-world pretenses in which a struggling painter becomes an overnight success, except that everyone thinks his paintings were done by a fictitious artist with a much more marketable backstory. Gus Bishop (Chris Eigeman) has been toiling in obscurity for years, living in a dump, doggedly pursuing dismissive dealers and severely straining his relationship with his materialistic girlfriend, Marin (Shari Lampkin). But it's Gus's visit to the chi-chi Pomposello Gallery that pushes him over the edge. His wallet is stolen on the subway, pretentious owner Arthur Pomposello (Farley Granger) tells him his work is boring and he arrives home to find he's been robbed. And then, while Gus is mired in a deep depression, Marin gives him the heave-ho. Enter fate, in full ironic regalia: Wallet-lifter and burglar Deech Scumble (Jamie Harris) barters one of Gus's stolen paintings for a few months' rent, spinning his landlord a gripping tale about the artist he dubs Geoff Buonardi (inspired by a can of prepared pasta). The conveniently reclusive Buonardi's work springs from a media-ready maelstrom of post-Vietnam madness, incest, substance abuse and personal tragedy, says Deech, and before you know it, the purloined painting has made its way to a gallery and acquired both a five-figure price tag and an eager buyer. With the practiced eye of a habitual hustler, Deech recognizes a golden opportunity, though he has to cut in the reluctant Gus and, later, a crooked private eye (Mike Starr) hired by wealthy art-world groupie Florence Rubin (Janet Zarish) to find the mystery maestro. The more celebrated Gus Buonardi becomes, the harder it is to keep the big secret — especially after Gus falls for influential critic Kate Crowley (Connie Britton), who's smitten with Buonardi's tormented genius but hardly knows Gus is alive. Though smartly written and handsomely produced (the film's visual polish is remarkable, given its modest budget and the swanky settings the story dictates), this film would benefit greatly from more bite. Director and co-writer (with his brother Joel) P.J. Posner seems to have aspired to the bittersweet sting of a Billy Wilder picture, but the sweet romantic comedy overwhelms the satirical bitterness, producing a fluffy, pleasant, instantly forgettable picture that feels more than a little behind the times. After all, the unholy marriage of art, commerce and spin has been a hot topic since Marcel Duchamp puckishly submitted a porcelain urinal signed "R. Mutt" to a group show in 1917. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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