Thursday, August 12, 2010

High Art (Lisa Cholodenko, 1998) -- C

Lisa Cholodenko's feature debut (now an Indie/Sundance classic), is interesting, though mainly as a contrast to her latest film, the Oscar-buzzed The Kids Are All Right; murky and dour rather than lightweight and structurally conventional, High Art couldn't be more tonally disparate - yet it is similarly flawed, here through amateurish self-awareness and foul cynicism. A leaky roof leads art magazine assistant editor Syd (Radha Mitchell) to neighbor Lucy (Ally Sheedy), who happens to have been a former photog prodigy before hanging it up. Drawn in by her "snapshot compositions" and, as the film intimates, her inner lesbian, Syd disconnects from standard-issue hunky/beauty boyfriend James (Gabriel Mann) and falls for Lucy, who's artistic and sexual passion surpass anything she's encountered. Cholodenko's psychological simplicity reduces Syd's two-pronged awakening to shrill, horror-like mood music, most pronounced during their first sex scene. Likewise, Cholodenko feels too close to her characters and their world to be critical or objectively insightful - rather she fills every scene with despondence and unfeeling, without ever transcending the monotonous pitch. Sheedy and Mitchell are convincing and humane (just like Moore and Bening are in her latest), so at least Cholodenko brings out the best in her actresses. Pity there's little else she does well, especially as writer and visual artist.

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