Forgotten Friday Flick – “High Art”

Keeping the current theme of dissecting the work of wondrous women behind the camera alive and well, this week sees yet another awesome indie with a talented female filmmaker proudly at the helm – welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick!  Continuing the highlighting of films with a distinctive feminine flair, the selection below was an impressive feature from a gutsy gal with serious cinematic style.  Combining bold ideas like ambition, inspiration, love and their cost within the turbulent world of being an artist and then matching it with sincere performances and a stark but stripped-down camera style, this debut flick was an outing that to no surprise took Sundance by storm.  True to its name in every fascinating frame, such stellar stuff is truly…High Art.

Syd is a woman in her early twenties, just starting out, who is looking for a big break.  As a newly appointed assistant editor of a photography magazine called Frame, Syd is on the lookout for budding talent that will prove her worth to the powers that be.  So when her she heads upstairs to a neighbors apartment to check out a water leak coming from the ceiling and comes face-to-face with former photographer Lucy Berliner, her mellow hipster mates and walls of captivating candid shots, she knows immediately that working together could be huge.  But Lucy has retired, taken up a drug heavy existence and has no yearnings to go back to her former life.  But something in Syd’s awe and aspirations gives Lucy pause and eventually the two end up entangled personally and professionally – with both good and bad results.

The description above may sound a tad one note, but writer/director Lisa Cholodenko’s film is anything but.  Filling her script with a myriad of raw emotions, terrible truths and colorful characters that are forced to face real consequences makes for a story that lives and thrives on layers.  As a filmmaker, Cholodenko takes the less is more approach by letting her actor’s fill the frame with their various character quirks, but still maintains a strong visual artist’s eye that matches the films’ photographic subject.  (Plus severely underappreciated cinematographer Tami Reiker is like the De Niro to Cholodenko’s Scorsese here!)  And it’s a notable savvy style that makes all the difference by providing a more heightened aesthetic to Cholodenko’s written words – with High Art there’s something to both see and hear.

And it’s fitting that Cholodenko chose both a seasoned screen vet and nuanced newbie to play two very different lead female characters that learn about life and love from one another.  Portraying a couple with intense personal passion, much to gain and lots to lose, The Breakfast Club alum Ally Sheedy and breakout star Radha Mitchell make serious sparks together and their pairing gives High Art panache.  Not that such salacious side characters as David Thorton’s weasily editor Harry, Bill Sage’s zoned-out house squatter Arnie and especially Patricia Clarkson’s (who steals almost every scene she’s in!) washed up and burnt out German actress Greta don’t add fabulous flavor to the film, but it’s the seemingly effortless work by Sheedy and Mitchell that shines brightest.

The talented Cholodenko thankfully went on to make equally notable outings like Laurel Canyon (early Christian Bale, anyone?) and The Kids Are All Right, but for my money High Art was always my favorite.  Almost a cautionary tale about the downside of getting what you want while at the same time being an uplifting story of the power of genuine adoration and living life when you can, this one is complex movie art of the highest caliber.


I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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