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Movie Reviews

High Art  

I have a lesbian friend, who probably experiences slim pickings when she (if she even does) decides to rent a film depicting her "way of life". She does not seem like the type to rent the radical, sappy pro-gay films populating the underground (although if I discover that Claire of the Moon is her favourite film, I`d be the first to question her taste, if not her mental capacity!), but the film High Art is the complete opposite. It merely depicts lesbianism as a fact, not a political stance, but it also depicts pain, misery, and drug abuse. I wonder how she would feel; if she would believe the film depicted a far too negative version of such a lifestyle. Somehow, I doubt that she would: she`d just find the story depressing by itself.

The film stars Ally Sheedy, who is a talented artist long past her heyday. Her absence from the art world was self-inflicted, as she turned from a huge talent to a woman who hangs out with friends at a dingy apartment, getting high all the time. Downstairs from her is a young female assistant editor of a pretentious photography magazine, who needs a big break in her career. Little does she know that her neighbour could be that break.

The neighbour visits Lucy because of a leaky ceiling. The young woman attempts to fix the problem, but in the process becomes fascinated by the large number of photographs adorning the walls of the apartment. She is so impressed she attempts to bring the subject up to the rest of the staff at the magazine. It is not for a while before everyone realizes that this fascinating artist is in fact that famous dropout. But once everything is clear, the brass wants her to make a comeback, by doing next month`s cover. Parallel to the magazine`s interest in Lucy is the young woman`s own budding interest and friendship with her. The young woman grows obsessed, possessed, by Lucy, so much so that she can`t, for a time, at least, help but to sniff a bit of cocaine along with her. And she flirts ever so much with the idea of expressing less than platonic thoughts with this confirmed lesbian. Lucy herself returns the attention, and soon the two awkwardly enter a love affair. This is dangerous for the both of them, as they both have lovers of their own. Lucy has had a long-term relationship with a German woman named Greta, while the young woman lives with her boyfriend. Yet, for a while, at least, the two enter in to a love affair, including a weekend out in the country.

Ally Sheedy is the major surprise in this film. For one, I`m always a little shocked whenever a somewhat recognizable actor actually gets involved in doing the nasty with another of the same sex, and the few scenes in question in which Sheedy is a part of are certainly provocative enough. Another is that we actually get some words out of Sheedy in this movie, instead of the twitchy performance in the teen classic The Breakfast Club. Instead of twitchy, Sheedy`s character is needy. She needs someone who won`t use her, or drain her of her emotional and mental resources. Her biggest problem is Greta, her long-time lover and a failed German actress. Greta is hopelessly addicted to drugs, especially heroin, is in a constant state of stupor, and seems to believe that if Rainer Werner Fassbinder hadn`t dropped dead of an overdose himself, she would have had a successful acting career. Lucy has always supported her and her troubling habits, and the overall relationship is one of parasitic misery rather than love. So of course, Greta becomes jealous of Lucy`s interest in the assistant editor, because this means that Lucy is no longer in Greta`s psychological clutches. But for a while, Lucy tries to escape her misery, and hopes and prays that this new girl will break that cycle.

Yet it is clear that this girl will not, because she has a motive of her own, which is to move up in her career. There are a number of scenes where she demands Lucy to basically change her ways, and to shape up, and it is obvious that she wants this to happen not just because she loves her but because she also wants to impress the big bosses at the magazines, and Lucy better not screw it up! The implication, as well, is that the editor is not so much in a swoon over Lucy as a person, but is in a swoon over her status, as a once-famous photographer.

This really is a very interesting film, although it is quite graphic in its drug abuse and lesbianism. This is what modern film at its best is about; depicting a world in completely realistic, documentary-like terms, yet still managing to find truth in that human experience. And at the same time, it does something which many current films don`t have the guts to do, which is to present an ending which actually makes sense, instead of playing to the audience who expects a happy ending no matter how illogical it might be. And Ally Sheedy proves to me that she can actually act; I find it odd that, when other actors get nominated for Oscars for playing down-on-their-luck characters, she didn`t get more recognition. It would have been worth it.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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