Creating a satire of the London art gallery scene would seem to be a rather pointless venture but director Duncan Ward, armed with his DVD collection of Robert Altman movies and aided by a lengthy cast list, brings us the lives and loves of assorted artsy types in his debut picture, Boogie Woogie.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around the titular painting, a Mondrian hanging proudly above Alfred Rhinegold’s (Christopher Lee) fireplace. He bought it from the artist himself, fifty years ago, and will never sell it. His daughter, all too aware of the bills that need paying, mulls over an offer from insincere art gallery boss Art Spindle, who has plans to immediately sell it on to avid-collector-with-too-much-money Bob Maccelstone (Stellan Skarsgard) whose wife Jean (Gillian Anderson) is leaving him for artist Joe Richards, whose girlfriend Beth (Heather Graham) works for Art but is thinking of opening a gallery of her own, and so goes to Bob, and so on, and so on. I’ve skipped over the lesbian video-artist, the gay friend, a roller-skating PA and a butler, but if I expand this piece to fit several pages I’ll re-edit, I promise.
Based on the novel by Danny Moynihan, and relocated to London from New York, Boogie Woogie is Altman without the quality — in other words, it’s just like Pràªt-a-Porter (sorry, Bob). There’s a lot going on, but nothing happening. Characters lurch to and from each other without any real reason, and the film feels poorly edited. Altman leaves viewers to make their own minds up about how certain characters interact with each other; this film leaves viewers questioning their own memory skills. Admittedly, it’s a nice change to have a British film about something other than London gangs, gritty Northerners or the nobility of Edwardian Surrey, and there are some plus points — just not very many. Danny Huston, as Art, is the standout. Sounding exactly like his father, John, Huston smiles an oily smile and laughs an insincere laugh in every scene. He’s in it for the money, but we like him. It would have been easy to make his character obnoxious, and I applaud the fact that he isn’t. Stellen Skarsgard, Joanna Lumley and Alan Cumming all play exactly the type of characters you would expect them to, Charlotte Rampling appears in one scene with eyelids slung so low I worry for her ability to see low beams, and Gillian Anderson brings her one English accent out of the closet for another airing. Poor girl, she sounds like she’s going to faint at any minute.
For all that, Boogie Woogie is not a terrible movie. It’s light, for the most part, and Huston is a delight in every scene. It just seems that satirizing something that already seems satirical to anybody not in that community is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.