Film Review: Boogie Woogie

This deliciously perverse, splashy, lively collage of the high-end contemporary London art scene provides a guilty pleasure to students of sex, greed and manipulation. Aesthetics is beside the point.

Not your run-of-the-mill Londoners, the characters in Boogie Woogie are a gaggle of (take your pick) hugely rich, greedy, sneaky, promiscuous, self-serving, coke-indulging, desperate denizens of the contemporary art world scheming as (again your pick) buyers, sellers, collectors, gallery drones, curators, publicists, creators and wannabes. Mostly all drool around a much-sought-after painting—Mondrian’s Boogie Woogie, the artist’s supposed first work.

The painting has long been the cherished prize of the ancient, stubborn, once-wealthy Alfred Rhinegold (Christopher Lee) and his younger, respectful wife Alfreda (Joanna Lumley, a far cry from her beloved role as the decadent party girl of “Absolutely Fabulous”). Alfreda, aware that hubby’s fortune (and hubby himself) is fast fading, makes a move to get it on the market.

Among those who would kill their first-born to get in on the deal and pry the painting from the intractable Alfred are aggressive gallery owner and chief schmoozer, ambi-sexual Art Spindle (Danny Huston), close to Alfreda, and the deep-pocketed collector Bob Maclestone (Stellan Skarsgard), who doesn’t let his marriage to the icy, sex-starved Jean (Gillian Anderson) get in the way of his affairs with the hot, young, fiercely ambitious gallery directors/assistants who eagerly accommodate him.

The embodiment of this 20-something warrior is Beth Freemantle (Heather Graham), who schemes to leave Art’s lair for her own gallery (thanks to Bob’s generosity and their intimacy). And there’s gallery girl Paige (Amanda Seyfried), whose financier dad bagged a fortune and helped launch his daughter before being caught and imprisoned for unspecified fraud.

Also inevitably inhabiting the decadent art world of Boogie Woogie is emerging young painter/hunk Jo (Jack Huston), who snorts coke and beds the horny older wives of extravagant collectors. Art as it relates to perception is his thing.

Standing off to the sides a bit (but don’t count her out) is Elaine (Jaime Winstone, daughter of Ray Winstone), a young lesbian video artist into cocaine and her always-wasted insignificant other, Joany (Meredith Ostrom). Toiling in their orbit but hungering for a gig with Art is Dewey (Alan Cumming), a sycophantic publicist/curator eventually dumped by Elaine, for whom he was a dear friend and promoter.

A wonderful cameo from Charlotte Rampling as Jean’s divorce lawyer Emille, hired to assure that Jean doesn’t lose her cheating husband’s art treasures, is enough to assuage some guilt at reveling in so damning a canvas. The film is also immensely helped by the fact that many behind the scenes (director Duncan Ward, writer Danny Moynihan, art curator/artist Damien Hirst, et al.) are of the art world.

No matter that Danny Huston and Alan Cumming really ham it up. After all, theirs is a world of excess, but nicely balanced by Lumley’s elegant Alfreda, along with her dignified, learned secretary/manservant Robert (Simon McBurney), who both give hope that some dignity prevails.

That Boogie Woogie is so entertaining suggests big-screen potential for the recent art-insider, Chelsea, New York-based novel Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him. The film also reminds that high-end, high-stakes collecting is just one more glamorous and movie-ready arena where sex, money, visual interest and very bad behavior converge and await our viewing pleasure.