Movie review: (Untitled)

(Three stars)

"When did beauty become so f---in' ugly?"

It's a key question in Jonathan Parker's acerbic little comedy "(Untitled)," which takes aim at contemporary art: its creators, vendors and consumers.

The question is asked by Josh Jacobs (Eion Bailey), the creator of large, gauzy, unthreatening abstractions that are snapped up by a buyer for office buildings and hospitals. Josh's dealer is Madeleine Gray (Marley Shelton), owner of a trendy New York gallery, who keeps his paintings in the back room, as opposed to the front room.

In front, she exhibits works by artists such as Ray Barko (Vinnie Jones), who mounts taxidermied animals in grotesque postures: possums hanging from a chandelier, a monkey breathing into (or out of) a vacuum cleaner hose. Or single-named Monroe (Ptolemy Slocum), whose minimalist works include "Wall Surrounded by Space" (a blank wall) and "Lightbulb Going On and Off" (just what it says).

Poised against these visual artists is Josh's composer brother, Adrian (Adam Goldberg), whose orchestrations include chains rattling in a bucket, paper being crumpled and then torn, and a vocalist pretending to cry. Unlike the work of Monroe and Barko, Adrian's efforts meet with little recognition. In one concert, the number of audience members about equals the number of performers. Adrian, a scowl permanently engraved on his face, is resentful of everyone, especially his successful brother.

Madeleine, always dressed in black, underwrites the more experimental works by cleaning up on Josh's lucrative paintings. But when Josh demands to be moved to the front room and given his own show, she refuses: It wouldn't go over well with the artsy types she's trying to cultivate, like Porter Canby (Zak Orth), who is "not familiar" with the work of Matisse and sees "collecting" as a way of social climbing.

Throw in a passionate affair between Madeleine and Adrian, sound design by Oscar-winning Richard Beggs, and music by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang, and this timely satire packs a wallop.

Rated R for language and nude images. 1 hour, 36 minutes.

— Renata Polt

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