starring Chris Eigeman, Jamie Harris, Connie Britton, Mike Starr
screenplay by Joel Posner & P.J. Posner
directed by P.J. Posner
by Walter Chaw A film that curiously reminds of Eric Schaeffer's smug, unfunny If Lucy Fell, P.J. Posner's badly-scored, clumsily-written, expansively-performed, and stodgily-paced The Next Big Thing is an exercise in elitism that sketches out its tedious premise in broad strokes. It takes broadsides at the snooty New York art world (an exercise akin to complaining about the media or engaging in a discussion on the ethics of politicians)--the ground for excoriation, in other words, isn't so much fertile as it is in dire need of crop rotation. And like a hack artist before his hack art, The Next Big Thing lays on its easel in the benighted hope that it can be appreciated for a work of insight rather than the umpteenth riff on a strip-mined theme.
Gus Bishop (Whit Stillman regular Chris Eigeman) is a struggling artist and file clerk who, after having an unremarkable example of his art stolen by small-time hood Deech Scumble (Jamie Harris), discovers that the best agent is a small-time hood. The level of satirical brio never elevates much beyond this, as Deech creates elaborate liberal-hot button artist Geoff Buordine (from the like-sounding canned pasta) as the artist of Gus's piece, creating with it a fury among the collector community reminding of that time some kind of animal drew a bunch of things that sold for thousands of dollars. Entering into a partnership with Gus--he creating more of his drab geometric colour washes, Deech acting as high-powered broker and go-between--the pair attracts the attention of art groupies, wheedling ex-girlfriends, dilettantes, and the easy-target critical community.
The Next Big Thing is based on a pompous gimmick and carried on a series of blatant volleys that do more to embarrass the roaster than the roastee. It's a highly pretentious conceit meant to harpoon a highly pretentious milieu, and the irony of that tension isn't delicious so much as pathetic. This weakness is reflected in the performances, which run the gamut from bewildered and desperate (Eigeman) to detached (Connie Britton as the bland love interest) to campy and incompetent (the rest). There is no sharpness to the japes and no direction to the tone; the film is not so much a series of missed opportunities as it is a bad idea from the start, unwisely played out over the course of a clunky feature-length picture. The Next Big Thing is irritatingly cutesy and self-satisfied on top of it all, making the picture something of an endurance test besides being a misfire. Early in The Next Big Thing, a review of a struggling artist's work is read aloud. "Cries out for attention but demands none, it is full of strained metaphors and glib artificialities," the piece goes, leading one to deduce that Posner has a future in film criticism should his directing career stall. Originally published: June 14, 2002.
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