MY ART (Laurie Simmons, 2016)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Opens Friday, January 12
Visual artist Laurie Simmons makes her feature-film debut as writer, director, and star of the self-indulgent, pretentious romance My Art, which opens at the Quad on January 12. Part of the Pictures Generation, Simmons, who was born in Queens in 1949, has been creating intriguing photographic series since the mid-1970s, often focusing on such inanimate objects as mannequins and dolls, offering a feminist viewpoint of domesticity. In My Art, she plays Ellie Shine, a sixty-five-year-old teacher and artist who decides to house-sit for an upstate friend in order to take advantage of her large studio and to work on a new project, bringing along her ailing dog, Bing, who is suffering from degenerative myelopathy (and is sometimes played by her real dog, Dean, who had the same illness). Although she is seeking privacy and seclusion, she is soon interacting with three men, local gardeners Frank (Robert Clohessy), a widower, and Tom (Josh Safdie), who is married to Angie (Parker Posey), and an oft-divorced lawyer, John (John Rothman). Instead of using dolls and mannequins, she and the three men dress up to re-create scenes from some of Ellie’s favorite films, including John Huston’s The Misfits, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, and François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, which involve issues of sex, femininity, age, and gender. Inspired by the work of Cindy Sherman and Gulley Jimson, the painter portrayed by Alec Guinness in Ronald Neame’s The Horse’s Mouth, Ellie reimagines herself as Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, Malcolm McDowell, Marlene Dietrich, and other characters as the scenes help drive the narrative of her evolving relationships with the three men as well as the upstate community as a whole. She did not come to the house looking for romance, instead wanting to concentrate on her art, but she can’t help but be beguiled by the three men, particularly Frank, while rediscovering her sexuality.
My Art is too cutesy for its own good, more of a Lifetime movie or gallery installation than a theatrical release for the general public. It’s often cloying, and clumsily edited, with a score that might rot your teeth. Simmons is a terrific visual artist — you can see some of her real work in the opening scene, when Ellie is walking through the 2015 Whitney exhibition “As Far as the Eye Can See” (the colorful painting she stops at is “Large Bather [quicksand],” by her husband, Carroll Dunham) — but perhaps feature films are just not her forte. Dunham and Simmons’s daughter, Lena Dunham, makes an early cameo as a student of Ellie’s; it’s not difficult to understand where Lena gets some of her artistic and political views from. There are also cameos by Simmons’s other daughter, writer and activist Grace Dunham, in addition to Marilyn Minter, Blair Brown, and Barbara Sukowa. Simmons, who appeared in Lena’s Tiny Furniture with Grace and in Girls and made the 2006 short The Music of Regrets, is a much better photographer than actress; while it’s refreshing to see a sixtysomething woman protagonist rediscovering life’s many pleasures, Simmons can’t carry the lead. In fact, the only actor who excels in the film is the amiable Clohessy, who is impeccable as Frank, riffing on his real life as a former boxer, son of a police officer, and actor who has primarily played cops in his career, including recurring roles on NYPD Blue, Oz, and Blue Bloods. Simmons will participate in several special events at the Quad: There will be Q&As with Simmons, Rothman, Clohessy, producer Andrew Fierberg, and Lena Dunham (via Skype) on January 12 and 13 at the 7:00 shows; the 4:50 screening on January 14 is dedicated to women artists, while the 7:00 screening the same day is a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood and will be followed by a Q&A with Simmons, moderated by Lynn Tillman.