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Most of the Actors in High Art have narrow ranges, but that doesn't make them "bad" actors, just limited to a range of motion (like a great distance runner who is a lousy sprinter). It takes a patient and focused Director to recognize what that kind of actor can do in the right setting. Most Directors seem to steam roller through their vision of the script and force actors to conform to an abstract idea (they make the poor sprinter sprint anyway instead of giving them a long quiet run to excel at). High Art isn't about Ally Sheedy showing she's an unappreciated powerhouse, it's about Director Lisa Cholodenko giving Ally the room and role to do the kind of acting she's never been allowed to do. Fellow "distance runner/lousy sprinter" Radha Mitchell is also perfectly placed in every scene. These two are the narrower players, they're like bold colors you can't use to excess and can't water down without ruining the whole painting. Then like a good painter Cholodenko does bring in a powerhouse in someone like Patricia Clarkson. Unlike Sheedy and Mitchell, Clarkson is spread thin and applied liberally. And I don't mean screen time. Clarkson's pull on the plot between Sheedy and Mitchell makes their specialized boldness stand out. It gives them weight and dissolves into itself. The painting analogies are cheesy, but that's what the grace of this film is to me. Clarkson is definitely a deeper actor than Sheedy or Mitchell, but instead of upstaging them her role in this film elevates them. If you were to paint two small but boldly colored flowers on a canvas you would need a more universal, softer backdrop to make the two flowers take form (in a realistic painting at least). This movie is not about a plotline, not really. Like a painting it suggests something with a seemingly straight ahead depiction of, well: drugs and sexual awakenings, career ambition, disillusionment that follows great success. It's flawless to me because it only suggests these things and does not offer any conclusions. It just is. High Art.
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