Film Review | High Art

Brat Pack star Ally Sheedy’s impressive comeback film

Former Brat Pack star Ally Sheedy seemed to slip from view after such 1980s hits as The Breakfast Club, St Elmo’s Fire and Short Circuit, but she made a remarkable comeback at the tail end of the 1990s in director Lisa Cholodenko’s debut film High Art, a perceptive and touching love story set in New York’s art world. Looking almost unrecognisable from her heyday, Sheedy gave the performance of her career.

She plays the elegantly wasted Lucy, a once-famous photographer who dropped out to live in druggy seclusion with her junkie German girlfriend Greta (Patricia Clarkson) and their similarly louche coterie of friends and hangers-on. Lucy’s stoned stasis is shaken up, however, when a young woman named Syd (Radha Mitchell) stumbles into her world.

High Art - Ally Sheedy plays the elegantly wasted Lucy in Lisa Cholodenko’s moving love story set in the New York art world

An assistant editor on fashionable photography magazine Frame, Syd lives with her yuppie boyfriend in the flat below Lucy and Greta’s. Coming upstairs one night to investigate the source of a leak, Syd is instantly fascinated by Lucy’s hipster cool, by the decadent glamour of her set, and by the diary-like intimacy of her photos (modelled on the work of Nan Goldin). Initially unaware of Lucy’s former renown, she makes it her mission to coax her out of retirement and secure her a commission for Frame.

As the project develops, the attraction between the two women becomes obvious, but Lucy’s drug use and Greta’s jealousy cast a dark shadow over Syd and Lucy’s budding relationship.

High Art - Radha Mitchell plays the ambitious Syd in Lisa Cholodenko’s moving love story set in the New York art world

A decade on from its release, High Art is – like Lucy’s photography and Sheedy’s acting – well worth rediscovery. The movie starts off as a bohemian comedy, wittily sending up both New York’s bitchy, brittle art world and the narcotic self-absorption of Lucy’s friends; then it seems likely to turn into an updated All About Eve, with hungry Syd sucking up to the famous Lucy in a bid to get ahead. But as Syd and Lucy’s relationship deepens the film becomes more and more absorbing, and the moving conclusion packs a devastating emotional punch.

The acting’s great, too. Clarkson’s Greta, a washed-up former actress constantly harking back to her career with Fassbinder, is wickedly funny, while Mitchell’s ingénue convincingly combines puppyish idealism and steely ambition. But it’s Sheedy’s Lucy, nonchalantly sexy, sharply intelligent, tough and vulnerable, who is the film’s heart and soul.

Released 13th July.


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