Let’s start with “outsider art.” Madeleine and George are recently married and live in Chicago. She deals in this stuff. You may have heard of it, it used to be called “primitive” art, and Grandma Moses is probably the most famous practitioner. (No, wait, it sez here that she’s called a folk artist.) (There’s also another term: naïve art. Henri Rousseau is an example.) Henry Darger was an outsider artist … and as you can see, the labels can be confusing, but what we’re talking about here is people who were not classically trained and, further, have their own view of the universe, often a quite mad one. In the outsider art world, true insanity is a plus, selling-wise.
This is where the movie begins, and it unsettles me from the gitgo. And I find it hard to say exactly why. It is clear that Madeleine loves this stuff—and I am fascinated by a lot of it, too. And yet there is something faintly distasteful about these big-city nabobs oohing and aahing at stuff that is frequently on a kindergarten level of sophistication, selling art made from house paint on cardboard for fabulous prices. So what’s my problem? It’s fine with me if these hicks from up some forgotten holler get rich off their obsessions … and yet it has a taste of that old Woody Allen joke: “My brother thinks he’s a chicken. We thought about getting him help, but we need the eggs.”
Turns out George is from small-town Carolina, and the couple of city sophisticates go back to meet his family and also try to nail down an outsider artist who is far crazier than a bedbug. The family is a work of outsider art in itself. These people put the dys in dysfunctional. (I like stories about dysfunctional families, too, if they’re treated in a certain way, which might be called putting the fun in dysfunctional. There’s very little fun here.)
I’m not going to get into it any further; it’s too depressing. This is a film from that critically-praised genre that includes Me and You and Everyone We Know and Welcome To the Dollhouse, both movies that didn’t work for me or Lee. The writing is impressive, and so is the acting, particularly Amy Adams, who got a Supporting Actress nomination and is actually better than the winner, Rachel Weisz.