We saw the movie “P.S.” (2004) last night, with the amazing and beautiful Laura Linney. She may be one of the most underrated actresses working today. She conveys such a huge amount of emotion, yet it’s never in your face; it’s always somewhat tightly contained within the physical space she inhabits, but you so get it! And this movie has one of the hottest little sex scenes I’ve yet seen (without any actual nakedness, even!). But neither Laura Linney’s performance nor the great little sex scenes are what I liked most about this movie.
Of all the movies I’ve ever seen about artists, this one struck me as being, in many ways, the most honest, most accurate, most telling in regards to the emotional life of an artist (though that certainly wasn’t the main conceit, and in fact, constituted only a very tiny portion of the movie). For once, the artist is not depicted as a stereotype, a set of cliches, a truly eccentric character with raging flaws, or an object to be viewed from the outside as some kind of a creature different than the rest of humanity. You see a person who is complex, who has some of the same minor flaws as other humans, who is both a bit of a jerk and also quite dear, who struggles to understand and explain things from what may actually be a particularly artist’s POV – with a rich visionary intuitive kind of understanding of life’s complexities. And whose internal life as an artist rings nearly 100% true for me.
The plot involves an admissions officer (Laura Linney’s character) at Columbia’s art school and a young man applying there for grad school in painting who so chillingly resembles the high school sweetheart of Laura Linney’s character that she’s not sure if it actually IS him, reincarnated into a 20-year-old, or not. (See the IMDB plot summary here, if you’d like). But the plot also wasn’t what really struck me about the movie.
It was the emotional honesty, the inner reality, of these characters that really got to me. The young artist’s reactions to the admissions officer’s intentionally underwhelming response to his work were spot on. He was completely devastated by her faint praise, and I so knew exactly how he felt.
So many artists put so much of their heart and soul into their work – it’s who they are, it’s why they live. What would be the point of living, if one couldn’t BE what one IS, after all? And one wants – almost needs – others to see and really appreciate what you’re about, what your work is about (which to some extent are virtually the same thing), so that when someone responds quite casually and offhandedly to your work as though it isn’t really important (as Linney’s character does here, in her role as admissions officer), it’s as though they are dissing the person of the artist as well. There were scenes, emotional reactions, and even whole conversations that I could almost swear were secretly recorded from my life!
Early on, Linney’s character asks the young artist what he would do if he couldn’t paint, and he says something to the effect of “I’d go crazy.” During those times when life or something gets in the way of my being creatively productive, I, too, start to feel very stressed, I guess would be one way to put it. And when life lets up, and I can finally start painting again, it’s such an enormous relief in a way, and I get so sucked into the creative process that I always wonder how it is I ever do anything else (like writing this, for instance!). As Susan Rothenberg says, “You build up a head of steam. If you’re four days out of the studio, on the fifth day, you really crash in there. You will kill anybody who disturbs you on that fifth day when you desperately need it.”
Back to the movie…later, there’s a scene where Linney’s character forces the young artist to look at himself in the mirror as she describes his possible life as a used-car salesman and failed artist 20 years in the future. Totally chilling and perhaps quite inappropriate for her character (in her role as an admissions officer) to present to him that possible very bleak future, and yet, how many truly talented artists face a future as creatively unrealized as that? How many talented artists must work at jobs that pay far too little and rob them of far too much of their creative time? How many artists struggle just to find enough time to do their work while also negotiating life’s daily indignities? How many are actually financially successful, especially in today’s America, where the National Endowment for the Arts no longer funds actual fine artists, where art is barely, if at all, taught in public schools anymore, and where most members of our society seemingly have no clue about fine art? How many great paintings will go unpainted, because of lack of support for the arts in our society? OK, so this movie truly struck a chord with me! Off my soapbox now…
And the paintings in this movie are so good! Painted by NY artist Bryan Leboeuf (bio and paintings here, these are truly top-quality paintings, sure to get one accepted into the best of grad schools, and perfect for this movie, with their incredibly well-painted realism and underlying emotional intensity!
It appears that most of the professional and amateur critics alike did not appreciate this movie anywhere nearly as much as my husband and I did (except for Peter Travers of Rolling Stone). One amateur critic thought the movie was too long. I say it was too short. If you rent the DVD, be sure to watch the deleted scenes – for me, this is yet another movie that has edited out some very critical scenes in the interest of appealing to the attention spans of gnats. I only wish I could view the movie again with those scenes in place.