It's hard enough for experienced directors to make movies that live up to their titles, but when you're a newcomer with a feature film debut titled "High Art," chances are the picture isn't going to be quite that - no matter how good it is.

The unlucky culprit here is Lisa Cholodenko, a talented protege of filmmaker Milos Forman, whose first feature is a classic example of style over substance.While Cholodenko has a flair for creating nice visuals, she spends so much time setting the mood for the piece that the accompanying story line seems uninspired and flat.

And the ending of the film is so obvious and downbeat that it detracts from some pretty decent acting, especially from Ally Sheedy, whose performance in the movie is being hailed as her "comeback."

The former Brat Pack member stars as Lucy Berliner, a once-famous photographer who has shunned the spotlight and who has settled into a "heroin-chic" lifestyle.

However, her world is turned upside down by the arrival of Syd (Radha Mitchell), a young assistant editor for a photography magazine, who believes Lucy is overdue for rediscovery. Syd convinces Lucy to start shooting again - for a project that she hopes will invigorate both their careers.

And though Syd believes she is drawing Lucy out of her dead-end existence, she is instead slowly being sucked into Lucy's world of drug parties and into a less-than-professional lesbian relationship with her.

Obviously that doesn't thrill either Lucy's drug-addled lover, former actress Greta (Patricia Clarkson), or Syd's live-in boyfriend, James (Gabriel Mann), who question both women's true motives.

As mentioned, the depressing and contrived conclusion isn't particularly inspired, nor is it as revelatory as Cholodenko might have been believed it to be.

What is surprising is the depth of Sheedy's performance, which is both subtle and appropriately enigmatic.

Both Clarkson, whose dialogue is rendered almost unintelligible by her character's affected speech pattern, and Mitchell are nearly as good, which makes it particularly irksome that the plotting is not.

"High Art" is rated R for scenes depicting drug use, simulated sex, female nudity, profanity and some vulgar references.