Thursday, January 11, 2018

The artist as user: Laurie Simmons' sometimes funny/often pretty MY ART opens in theaters

Film-goers who saw and recall Tiny Furniture may remember that its writer/director/star Lena Dunham's mom, Laurie Simmons, made a nice appearance in that film. Ms Dunham returns the favor in Simmons' first full-length endeavor -- opening tomorrow in New York City and entitled MY ART -- though she plays not Simmons' daughter but a former student who has now become a lot more famous than her teacher.

That this character also complains about her difficult success may clue in the viewer as to the ironic and just a little nasty nature of this sometimes funny but more often realistic "take" on the artist's pursuit of her art and success.

That this semi-fledgling (even though she's 68 years old) filmmaker, shown at right, has a nice sense of humor is evident from the opening credits, during which elevator doors close in on the very title of her film, crushing it in the process. Along the way, and with literally every artist we meet (including our heroine, Ellie) there is a sense of the single-minded ("my art above all else"), entitlement and the necessity to "use" everyone around her -- albeit with a lot of seductive charm, of course. How the artist must keep herself separate and "alone" so that she can properly create is also given its due.

When the opportunity arises for Ellie to get away from New York City and complete a new project in the large, lovely and very elegant home and studio of a friend upstate, she goes (along with her beloved dog, Bingham, below) and is soon surrounded by a new group of people who slowly but significantly becomes a part of her "art."

That art, evidently similar in ways to the art Ms Simmons is best-known for, has to do with taking her beloved "old movies" -- from Morocco and Bell, Book and Candle (below) to A Clockwork Orange and Some Like It Hot -- and recreating small scenes using herself and the new friends in the leading roles. I didn't buy the fact that this kind of thing would turn the head of an important art gallery owner and becomes a huge success. But within the framework of the plot Ms Simmons has contrived, it works well enough.

More important, it also gives the viewer the chance to see an artist's ambition on relatively naked (and, yes, but quite charming) display, and should bring to mind the rule that a number of people I've known throughout my life live by: Never get involved with an artist. The movie, by the way, is also often stunningly photographed, with colors so alive and gorgeous that they nearly vibrate (the cinematographer is Tom Richmond).

Fortunately the little satellite of new friends who help Ellie with her work include three male actors (from two generations) who are very good indeed. These would be Josh Safdie, (above, left), John Rothman (above, right, and especially Robert Clohessy (center, left), each of whom brings to life his interesting character as well as possible -- at least to the extent that Simmons has enabled him. (The usually fine Parker Posey, who has a small but silly role in the film, is not that lucky.)

How everything works out may not be quite what you expect or want, especially for the character portrayed so very well by Mr. Clohessy. (TrustMovies has seen this particular actor countless times already but he has only, with this film, suddenly become memorable to me: Clohessy is that moment-to-moment perfect here, creating a full-blown and wonderfully real character in about as small an amount of screen time as seems possible.) All this is part of the oddball strength of My Art, which is funny and charming at times but in which the artist's personality and needs simply mow down everything in their path, poor Bingham included. Be warned.

From Film Movement and running a just-long-enough-not-to-wear-out-its-welcome 86 minutes, the movie opens tomorrow, Friday, January 12, in New York City at the Quad Cinema, and then the following Friday, January 19, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Ahrya Fine Arts

No comments: