As in the best movie satires, there's a solid core of truth informing director Jonathan Parker's "(Untitled)," which takes on the New York art and music worlds in one smart and funny swoop. The film, co-written by Parker and Catherine DiNapoli, strikes a mostly happy balance between observational farce and heightened reality, without defaulting to the overly broad or ridiculous just to prove a point. The filmmakers are also blessed with a strong cast, whose portrayals of the movie's various buyers, sellers and creators rarely feel forced or concocted but believably lived in.
Adam Goldberg, whose aggressive-neurotic shtick has often been wearying, is enjoyably effective here as Adrian Jacobs, a brooding, strangely passionate composer of atonal music who just can't square why his "sound art" falls on so many deaf ears -- and empty concert halls -- while his painter-brother Josh's (Eion Bailey) pedestrian pastel canvases sell by the truckload, even if it is to hotels and hospitals.
Things shift for both brothers, though, when Josh's would-be girlfriend, Madeleine (an excellent Marley Shelton), a shrewd Chelsea gallery owner who brokers Josh's generic paintings to fund her support of the avant-garde artists who feed her soul, takes an interest in Adrian musically, and soon, romantically. Though she invites Adrian to perform at her gallery and finds him a commission with a clueless, nouveau riche art collector (Zak Orth), Adrian spirals deeper into his own creative discordance. Meanwhile, Josh pines for the gallery showing that the deeply principled Madeleine won't give him, and for the critical respect that's eluded both he and Adrian.
Though the movie sails through its first half, it loses its way for a bit before regaining its footing by the third act. In addition, the potentially loaded artistic and fraternal conflicts between Adrian and Josh are never fully realized, with the Adrian-Madeleine relationship taking center stage. But given Adrian's unusual struggle and the vividness of Madeleine's complex, unpredictable character -- not to mention how many socio-artistic issues the film manages to so cannily cover -- there's plenty to recommend.
Lucy Punch as Adrian's loyal clarinetist, Vinnie Jones as a pretentious taxidermy artist, Ptolemy Slocum as perhaps the world's most minimalist artist and Janet Carroll as a snooty, competing gallerist also shine in amusing supporting roles.
Additional shout-outs go to Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's eclectic musical contributions, Oscar-winner Richard Beggs' ("Apocalypse Now") sound design and to costumer Deirdre Wegner for creating Madeleine's hilariously noisy wardrobe.
MPAA rating: R for language and nude images
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: In selected theaters