[Film Review] High Art (1998)

High Art poster

Title: High Art
Year: 1998
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director/Writer: Lisa Cholodenko
Music: Shudder to Think
Cinematography: Tami Reiker
Ally Sheedy
Radha Mitchell
Patricia Clarkson
Gabriel Mann
Anh Duong
David Thornton
Tammy Grimes
Bill Sage
Anthony Ruivivar
Elaine Tse
Sarita Choudhury
Rudolf Martin
Rating: 7.2/10

High Art 1

There have been almost 4 years since lesbian director/writer Lisa Cholodenko’s mainstream breakthrough dramedy THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (2010), and we still have no clue of her follow-up, she might be in a writer’s block, so I root out her 1998 director debut HIGH ART, a post-modern romance between Syd (Mitchell), a greenhorn assistant editor of Frame magazine and a hedonistic former photographer Lucy (Sheedy) in Manhattan.

Radha Mitchell, the ambition and focus of a greenhorn

Radha Mitchell, the ambition and focus of a greenhorn

Cholodenko adopts a Lo-Fi buzzing and eerie sound effect in the beginning to not the least understate the unfulfilled surroundings of Syd, whose boyfriend James (Mann) is a good-for-nothing, who leaves his girlfriend to check the leaking in the ceiling, but thanks to him, meets Lucy, her neighbor upstairs, and her free spirit friends, including Lucy’s German girlfriend Greta (Clarkson), a constantly-stoned former actress.

Ally Sheedy, as the butch photographer

Ally Sheedy, as the butch photographer

Instigated by Lucy’s unorthodox work (provided by photographer Nan Goldin in real life), Sid manages to recommend Lucy to Frame and they make a deal for the new issue’s cover, however, Lucy has been disappeared from the art scene for 10 years, initially she balks at the offer, Sid encourages and appease her, it is more than a new start for Lucy, it’s also an important career stepping stone for Syd, and the mutual attraction is intriguingly simmering.

the impeccable Patricia Clarkson

the impeccable Patricia Clarkson

The most imposing obstruction between them is the heroin-addicted Greta, Syd has no problem to ditch James, but Greta means more than a lover for Lucy, drug-abuse is the normalcy in Lucy’s coterie where Syd is the newcomer, she enjoys the occasional recreation with drugs, but for chronic abusers, it is the oxygen in their life. There is a discomfited cacophony when the film leans on glamorizing heroin-use in the lesbian subculture, and accelerates the ominous fallout.

hottie Gabriel Mann

hottie Gabriel Mann

But the Sheedy, Mitchell and Clarkson trio launches a dazzling interactions with their potently astonishing performances, Sheedy manifests an incredible charge with her butch manner and beguiling aggression, shamefully it is her first film I have watched, so cannot estimate what a thorough conversion for her, but at any rate, she is the magnetic backbone in the movie. Mitchell, her part is less engrossing (as in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, the butch always appears more daring than the femme), but she holds up a more intact narrative with decent faculty in her Hollywood debut. Clarkson is on the other hand, a dab hand can acutely inject her omnipotence whenever she is within frame, she offers far more than a jealousy-driven escapist and compelling justifies the imprudent finale, Lucy cannot get rid of her because she is her fatal addiction.

another hottie Bill Sage

another hottie Bill Sage

After brainwashed by BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (2013), the sex scenes here are girls playing house, never dare to explore too much, kissing and caressing are the maximum for them to showoff, and after the ending, the self-righteous title HIGH ART is more like a derision to the supercilious hollowness in the so-called art guardians and sleight of hand of destiny, Cholodenko’s potential is glimmering in her first foray and hope she will soon return with a more orchestrated comeback.

Tammy Grimes as Lucy's haughty mother

Tammy Grimes as Lucy’s haughty mother

Oscar 1998 - High Art

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