High Art

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High Art

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Drug-addicted artists and the bohemian underworld are, by now, pretty tired subjects for movies, most of which offer only romanticization, condemnation, or some confused mixture of the two. Fortunately, the thoughtfulness evident in High Art allows it to easily transcend the clichés of its subject matter. Australian actress Radha Mitchell (who looks as if she graduated from college sometime around yesterday) plays an assistant editor at a fashionable photography magazine. With a degree in critical theory behind her and the chauvinism of her superiors in front of her, Mitchell's prospects look dim until she discovers that her upstairs neighbor (Ally Sheedy) used to be a famous photographer in the '80s. After befriending her, Mitchell begins to push the heroin-sniffing Sheedy to resume working. Despite the domineering presence of Sheedy's self-destructive, aging German film-star girlfriend (Patricia Clarkson, in a memorable performance), Mitchell soon finds herself falling in love with Sheedy, as the distinctions between artist and subject, critic and creator, observer and participant begin to blur. Though High Art has more than a few awkward touches—all the male characters take up less than one dimension, for example—it's otherwise a nicely underplayed, memorable, beautifully filmed movie. Sheedy's presence may seem like stunt-casting at first, but that suspicion disappears quickly thanks to a performance that makes it easy to forget such films as Short Circuit and Man's Best Friend. She and Mitchell create fully developed characters whose complex relationship is essentially all there is to the movie, and all it needs. This is the first feature from Lisa Cholodenko, and the term "promising debut" should be reserved for films such as this one.

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