High Art (1998 with Ally Sheedy and Radha Mitchell)


USA / 1998

Director and Writer: Lisa Cholodenko

Cast: Ally Sheedy, Radha Mitchell, Patricia Clarkson, Gabriel Mann

After her brief reign as queen of the Brat Pack movie, Ally Sheedy’s profile took something of a nosedive in the late ’80s, even though her work was consistently well received. The passing of the Pack, and the whole John Hughes era too, made her something of an anachronism, which didn’t exactly serve her well.

It’s partly these echoes of real life that make High Art so effective, casting Sheedy as Lucy, a photographer in her mid-thirties whose work has dried up and who lives in a heroin haze with her domineering lesbian lover Greta (Patricia Clarkson). Out of the blue one day, Syd (Radha Mitchell), a pretty young neighbour from the downstairs apartment, comes up to investigate a leak. They get to know one another and Syd is impressed by Lucy’s photographs. Syd works for a hip downtown fashion magazine and wants to get Lucy on board, but there are a number of conflicting interests. For one thing, Syd’s motives aren’t immediately altruistic – she’s a New York girl on the make in the media world – but Lucy isn’t exactly the type to play ball, having walked out on a lucrative career at the height of her success.

Then there’s Greta, Lucy’s partner, who treats her lover with contempt but immediately resents this new intrusion on their relationship. And on top of it all, there’s the heroin, a destructive, degrading presence that cloaks their whole existence. As their friendship develops, Syd and Lucy fall in love, although High Art is far more than an exercise in hip lesbian chic or a finger-wagging morality tale about the dangers of drugs. Cholodenko’s quiet, restrained film is actually a study of human relationships, and it’s no accident that the character of Lucy’s lover Greta, a much older women, is written as an actress who once starred in the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder – a man who certainly knew a thing or two about the darker side of life.