Cinema has a long-standing fascination with troubled artists. Movies like The Electrical Life of Louis Wain and Séraphine draw us into the intense imaginations of their artistic subjects. Alex Ross Perry’s unsettling Her Smell delves into the damaged psyche of a drug-addled rock musician by placing us uncomfortably in her mind. However, Carol Morley’s fictionalized portrayal of real-life outsider artist Audrey Amiss (played by Monica Dolan) takes a different approach. Instead of actively trying to depict Amiss’s inner world, the film takes on a more passive and observational tone. Like Amiss’s former psychiatric nurse Sandra Panza (played by Kelly Macdonald), we obediently follow the chaos caused by Amiss’s unpredictable interactions with the real and imagined world.
This film is a heartfelt and compassionate road trip, showcasing Amiss’s unique personality with a forgiving and open-minded approach. However, as a work of cinema, it falls a bit short and lacks coherence, not fully capturing the free-spirited and diverse creations of its unpredictable subject.
During her life, Amiss was a productive artist and collector of various objects like junk food boxes and lollipop sticks. However, she remained unknown to the public and spent significant periods in mental health facilities. Morley discovered a collection of Amiss’s artwork, writing, and diaries in the archives of the Wellcome Institute after receiving a screenwriting fellowship from the organization. The film incorporates Amiss’s actual drawings, creating a lively conversation between the real and fictional versions of herself. However, while her drawing style is energetic, the storytelling falls short. Spending time with Amiss is tiring, and even the film and those who encounter her seem exhausted by the experience.