Art Spindle is a slippery dealer with his eye on an early Mondrian.
That’s the premise of “Boogie Woogie,” a fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek movie on the London art world, pre-meltdown. It’s written and produced by Danny Moynihan, author of the novel of the same name, which he originally set in the New York of the 1980s and ‘90s.
The film opens with Spindle offering millions to buy the yellow Mondrian from wheelchair-bound Alfred Rhinegold, who won’t sell. Rhinegold (Christopher Lee) lives grandly with his wife (Joanna Lumley) and butler, yet cash is scarce and bills are piling up.
Spindle (Danny Huston), meanwhile, employs a young blonde assistant named Beth who is sleeping with one of his biggest clients, a wealthy mega-collector keen on the Mondrian. Soon, Beth betrays Spindle and sets up on her own.
This high-stakes art race is punctuated with bursts of petting, snorting, boozing and vomiting. Just about everyone in the film has multiple partners, sometimes of both genders. The mating pool expands when Spindle recruits another blonde: Paige, a client’s daughter who dresses in tartan microskirts.
The movie has a feeble subplot: An ambitious gay artist named Elaine shoots an amateur video of these shenanigans, seducing the women she meets, and filming the proceedings to incorporate in her work.
Setting aside that weak sideshow, “Boogie Woogie” is, in many ways, true to life. The art world really is peopled with dealers who think everyone has a price, and galleries do hire high-born blonde assistants to show clients around.
The movie’s believability is bolstered by Damien Hirst -- listed as “Art Curator” in the credits -- who chose all of the artworks in the film, and loaned some of his own. He also recreated the Mondrian at the plot’s core, which was destroyed after the shooting of the film ended, according to distributors Vertigo Films.
First-time director Duncan Ward shows skill at the helm, and familiarity with the subject matter: His wife, Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, is an art adviser. Ward gets great help from the colorful cast, which includes Charlotte Rampling as the multiple divorcee who knows how to land a juicy settlement.
See the movie for a taste of the London art world before the bubble deflated. Rating: ***.
(Farah Nayeri writes for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless