Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)

Velvet Buzzsaw
Director: Dan Gilroy
Writer: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Toni Collette, Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, John Malkovich, Billy Magnussen, Pat Healy
Seen on: 11.4.2021

Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an art critic, always looking for something new and good. But currently, he is rather more occupied with Josephina (Zawe Ashton). She works in the gallery run by Rhodora (Rene Russo), hoping to become a successful agent herself, and Morf is deeply in love with her, despite having a boyfriend. When Josephina finds out that a recently deceased tenant in her building was an artist who wanted to have all his art destroyed upon his death, she is convinced that his art is something special. She is not wrong, though she couldn’t have foreseen what kind of special it really is.

Velvet Buzzsaw is visually engaging, and has a great cast who obviously had a lot of fun chewing the scenery in this one. But the metaphor at its heart feels a little flimsy and could have done with a little more work.

The film poster showing a white frame on a white wall with the words Velvet Buzzsaw spraypainted across it, the red paint dripping down and over the frame.

Velvet Buzzsaw seems to be about more than it actually is, and that is either a cunning meta statement or a script weakness. Maybe it’s both. It’s a film that obviously calls out the posh Los Angeles art scene, leaving nobody really unscathed – the critics, the artists, the collectors and the agents all are called out on contributing to the increasing commodification of art. They all lose sight of the art itself for the sake of the money that can be made with it. The only way to save yourself is to leave the art scene entirely.

Because art has a power that should not be overlooked. It is more than just a money-making machine. It’s expressive, it’s thoughtful, it resonates emotionally. When art is at its best, it can change your perspective and even yourself. All of that makes it dangerous – and fortunately the film found art that is good enough that we can believe the danger that comes from it.

Rhodora (Rene Russo) and Morf (Jake Gyllenhaal) looking at a painting that is in the position of the camera.

Those two paragraphs are basically the heart of the film and the film never moves beyond that, never expands on that metaphor, considers where it maybe doesn’t work or where that metaphor might open up new thinking spaces. It gives the film a superficial feel that corresponds to the superficiality it sees in the art it criticizes. Maybe that parallel is on purpose – but then I don’t see what it is trying to say, really. And given the last scene of the film that moves beyond the chique art world, but implies that any kind of sale of art is doomed (such a strange note to end on), I doubt that the film is really that clever and meta, and would assume that it just didn’t think that much about it.

It obviously spent more time thinking about the characters or rather the types that the characters satirize. They are wonderful caricatures, played with gusto by the awesome cast. The characters, the aesthetics of the film and its sense of humor made the film more worth watching than the rather flat metaphor that drives it.

In any case, Velvet Buzzsaw is a nice way to pass the time. I mean, Gyllenhaal gets naked and that itself is art.

Josephina (Zawe Ashton) handing Rhodora (Rene Russo) a folder with paintings.

Summarizing: I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it.

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