Tribeca review: My Art portrays an endearing female protagonist

Robert Clohessy as Frank, Laurie Simmons as Ellie, John Rothman as John, all portraying characters from A Clockwork Orange in My Art
Laurie Simmons as Ellie in a scene portraying characters from A Clockwork Orange in My Art

In Flames, which also premiered at Tribeca, real-life artists and filmmakers Zeffrey Throwell and Josephine Decker created a docu-drama about their actual relationship.

In My Art real-life artist and filmmaker Laurie Simmons takes a different approach, creating a feature that’s ostensibly narrative but seems intertwined closely with her identity.

For one thing the lead character, Ellie, is portrayed by Simmons, who also directs and wrote the screenplay.

Ellie is a talented artist frustrated by the distraction of everyday live in New York City, and so steals away for the summer to a friend’s idyllic upstate estate, complete with a barn-cum-art-studio.

Ellie’s/Simmons’ work as portrayed in the film is fascinating, a Cindy Sherman-like obsession with Hollywood Golden Era cinema except she uses video rather still photography to cast herself as characters from famous movie scenes.

Ellie seems to use her art as a vehicle for expressing her personal emotions, which she finds difficult to share with others, as well as her aesthetics.

While she had planned to work in isolation, Ellie soon finds herself surrounded by motley crew of “locals” that seem to populate every small town in American cinema.

At first she blanches at the intrusion but soon comes to see how they, too, can be characters in her Hollywood homage art videos.

Lena Dunham, Parker Posey (in a memorable tree-hanging — not hugging — scene) and Blair Brown all make appearances.

And a special mention must go to composer Will Epstein for his evocative score, hitting just the right notes to highlight the emotional subtext of the film.

I’m supposing that director-writer-star Simmons is very much like her character Ellie. It’s the reason the character itself and the film writ large seems so authentic.

The film unwraps what it feels like to be an artist who happens to be a middle-aged, single woman. That in and of itself is refreshing and courageous.

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