After a film has won the screenwriting award at Sundance, a spot during the director's fortnight at Cannes, and a spread in The Advocate, it has some high expectations to live up to. High Art now faces such a predicament.
In addition, some queer filmgoers may object to the plot--in which a heroin-snorting lesbian photographer seduces a previously straight, opportunistic young woman--on the grounds that the story depicts lesbians with various negative, dysfunctional attributes. (At least they're not vampires.) Admittedly, criticism of the premise is reasonable, but writer/director Lisa Cholodenko deserves credit for having created a believable and artfully rendered New York City cultural scene.
Playing photographer Lucy Berliner, Ally Sheedy (pictured below) has never seemed so fascinating or intense as she does here, and her age-weathered face contributes a certain worldly quality to her acting that was sorely missing during her days as a brat packer. Similarly, Lucy's lover Greta (Patricia Darkson), a former Fassbinder muse and drugged-up diva, is portrayed with magnetic ferocity. Groupie/friend Arnie (Bill Sage) is well-scripted and well-acted. If anything, Radha Mitchell stands out as the weak link: Her characterization of Syd, the careerist magazine editor wooed by Lucy, never seems charismatic or interesting enough to justify her suitor's interest.
As the title would suggest, High Art has been realized with art film aesthetics. It's one of the most gorgeously shot (by Tami Reiker) independent films around, and Shudder to Think's score sets a complementary minimalist mood.
Cholodenko's look at lesbian love probably won't be crowd-pleasing and will undoubtedly anger some viewers. Just keep in mind one small thing: Not all gay women are substance-abusing, chain-smoking, responsibility-shirking, angry people who recruit from the het population.