November 16th, 2022
MOVIE: THE ART OF REBELLION
DIRECTED BY: LIBBY SPEARS
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Most documentaries have a solid idea, message, or action they are pursuing. This is what makes such films so worthwhile to view. The Art of Rebellion is a bit questionable in this regard. It follows Lydia Emily, a muralist with Multiple Sclerosis (MS.) She is also a single mother with two young daughters, one of whom is autistic. What director Libby Spears is trying to say with the film though is unclear and a bit haphazardly presented.
Initially we see Lydia at home with her girls without really knowing why we are following her. MS isn’t mentioned until a few scenes into the film. I began to wonder what made Spears decide to examine Lydia’s journey. The fact that the cameras are present for some rather personal moments made me question how Spears got involved in the first place. A camera usually has an effect on its subjects and this film feels like it contains more of that “stagey” quality that makes some of the scenes feel a bit less natural than they could be.
The film also meanders into a few directions. We see Lydia trying to make ends meet as a teacher, painter, and tattoo artist. At one point, there are members of an African-American community complaining about Lydia, a white woman, painting black people on an outside neighborhood wall. Should she be the one to tell their stories? Later we see her struggling to obtain medications and paying the associated bills. Her energy levels become a bit inconsistent and her relationships with men take some interesting turns. All of this begs the questions: Was Spears trying to make a film about MS? The health care system? Murals? Who “owns” the stories artists tell? Autism? Parenthood? Even the title of the film is a bit of a misnomer. This isn’t really a story about someone who is rebelling but rather someone struggling with a debilitating illness.
The film would have worked better if Spears focused a bit more on one of these topics. As is, there are a lot of scenes in which Lydia is painting or doing other projects with her girls. What we don’t really know is how the illness is progressing. The beginning of the film doesn’t feel that different from what we see towards the end.
There’s also the issue of what should be shown in a documentary of this nature. More doctor visits? More details on how Lydia gets paid to do her work? How healthcare works in different states? A number of the most significant events that do happen during the time of this filming, roughly the mid-2010s, happen when cameras are not present. As such, what we get is a lot of interviews and mundane scenes.
In the end, The Art of Rebellion, while perhaps is at its best when it showcases Lydia’s work, doesn’t really delve enough into MS, autism, the health care system, or any of its other subjects to give any of them real serious attention.
THE ART OF REBELLION IS PLAYING AS PART OF DOCNYC AND IS AVAILABLE TO BE STREAMED FROM NOVEMBER 14TH UNTIL THE 27TH AT DOCNYC.NET.
2 1/2 STARS
Written by: Dan Pal