“High Art,” Odd Jewish (Sort of) Movie

Departing from my usual fare, I had Netflix send me High Art, a 1998 movie set in the drug-addled art-magazine world in New York. The cast had promise, with Ally Sheedy, Patricia Clarkson (struggling and failing to maintain a German accent) and Radha Mitchell. The photo-magazine setting also caught my interest, but the druggy characters and dark settings dampened my mood. Ally Sheedy as Lucy looked dreadfully gaunt as an alienated star photographer in emotional exile — I hope that was just acting, not real life.

What added an odd angle to High Art was Sheedy’s interaction with her mother, an upper-class German-Jew who rails against Sheedy’s German girlfriend and drives a Mercedes. The strained mother-daughter relationship and the explicit Jewish angle (including a scene with Shabbat candles in the background) were so at odds with the blank backgrounds of the other characters that I had to wonder what was going on.

Did Holocaust traumas drive Lucy’s drugging and withdrawal? What’s the backstory on the German girlfriend and the mother’s hectoring? Lucy carries the weight of history as well as addiction in her, and that added a fresh element to a romantic threesome movie set in the late Clinton era of New York. High Art is worth watching, but it’s no feel-good date movie.

Leave a Reply