At one point in Laurie Simmons’s My Art, New York City art teacher Ellie (Simmons) and Frank (Robert Clohessy), a landscaper and sometime actor who Ellie has recruited for her latest project, are seen dressed as Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, respectively, and preparing to recreate scenes from John Huston’s The Misfits. After Frank asks what his motivation is for one scene, Ellie responds that, while it’s impossible for them to ever be Monroe or Gable, they should nonetheless impersonate the two screen legends simply to see what happens. Despite the sheer vagueness of this explanation, which essentially encapsulates the approach Ellie takes to the multimedia project she works on throughout My Art, it unintentionally explicates the feeling that, like Ellie, Simmons isn’t so much creating art as a means to explore cinema’s effect on identity as she is conducting an act of indulgence.
Ellie’s project begins once her school year ends and she travels upstate with her dog to house-sit at an extravagant estate. Armed with a digital camera that she’s just learning how to use, Ellie meets and befriends small towners, including Frank, who she uses in her recreations of classic film scenes. Wisely, Simmons never touts Ellie as being more intelligent or cultured than the townsfolk, but the scenes that don’t involve Ellie at work suffer from a sense of narrative inertia. Throughout, Simmons is prone to leaving plotlines dangling. In one scene, Frank’s landscaping assistant, Tom (Joshua Safdie), and the latter’s wife, Angie (Parker Posey), have a discussion that offers an intriguing glimpse into a relationship marked by unresolved problems and unacknowledged insecurities. But Angie is only seen one more time in the film, and briefly so, and as no aspect of her relationship to Tom is broached again, their initial scene together is rendered effectively arbitrary.
In addition to The Misfits, Ellie recreates scenes from A Clockwork Orange, Jules and Jim, and Some Like It Hot, and part of My Art’s fun is the accuracy of Simmons’s staging. But because Simmons never really elaborates on Ellie’s life and aesthetic ambitions beyond suggesting that the woman seeks to escape from a reality that has her struggling to keep up with the times, a point undermined by a monologue in which Ellie declares how content she is with her life, these recreations end up feeling superficial. And since the reason for why Ellie is working on this specific project remains ambiguous, it’s as if Simmons merely wishes to see herself in other people’s films—which makes the possessive title My Art something of a paradox.