Film Review: My Art
My Art (2016) Director Laurie Simmons
Written by Belle McIntyre
First screened at 2016 Venice Film Festival, this charming film has clear references to the actual life and art of it’s director, the artist Laurie Simmons, as well as notable divergences. Most obviously, the main character Ellie Shine, played by Simmons, is a New York City artist who has not attained commercial success, which is emphatically not the case with the actual Laurie Simmons, who has been highly successful for decades and has two daughters by her artist husband Carroll Dunham. Ellie, on the other hand, is a popular single art teacher with many successful artists in her circle of friends and who, at age 65, has decided to take the leap to launch her own artistic career. She has been given a house for the summer in upstate New York in which to live and create and devote herself to her own work. It’s a bold step and she sets off with her fox terrier, Bing.
The house (played by Simmons' own country house) is beautiful and comfortable with a barn/studio which is perfect for her project which is a film montage based on classic films in which she will play all of the female leads and one in which she will play the Malcom McDowell character in A Clockwork Orange, which has only male characters. It’s all very Cindy Sherman, and often slyly amusing. She parodies her film’s leading ladies with high drama, elaborate wigs, makeup and costumes. The film intercuts the project sequences with fantasy sequences which involve the actual people whom she enlists with her actual self.
Ellie becomes an intriguing curiosity among the locals as an exotic solitary artist making a film in their midst. She initially resists her unwelcome allure, finding it intrusive to her work. But she eventually loosens up and embraces the affection which is being offered. She enlists the two gardeners (both out of work actors) for the male characters and a local drama student as the ingenue. The locals are charmingly portrayed by Josh Sadie, Robert Clohessy, John Rothman and Parker Posey. Her New York friends are played by Lena Dunham (her daughter), Barbara Sukowa and Blair Brown. Her fox terrier Bing is played by Simmons own dog, Dean.
Simmons plays Ellie straight with a naturalistic unemotional delivery which is drolly appealing and a wonderful contrast to her scenery chewing on screen. There are some genuinely funny moments in these interactions, both on the set and off as she finds herself being romantically pursued unexpectedly and inappropriately. Just when it looks like she is beginning to succumb to the charms of country life, the siren call of the New York art world abruptly ends the reverie
and the experiment. She is offered a show and she bolts without a word of goodbye. There is a wistful coda at the opening of her show at a New York gallery where Frank, the gardner/co-star/summer lover/supportive friend shows up. It is slightly awkward as they both acknowledge the moment they shared and the mutual validation. It is a surprising affirmation and a bittersweet ending. I quite enjoyed it and it has lingered on in a good way.
Watch the trailer here.