Film Review: Mondays With William

Bittersweet documentary about an artist and his patron is best when it sticks to the creative process.

Mondays With William charts the real-life relationship between William Laga, a homeless painter with schizophrenia, and Marcelle Danan, a Parisian-born L.A. gallery owner. Their platonic love story, combined with a look at William’s peculiar entry into the art scene, makes the film poignant; still, the paintings will be the main attraction for most viewers.

We begin as Marcelle discovers William, buying him paint (every Monday afternoon) and sponsoring his first art show. Surprisingly, the show is a success, allowing Marcelle to make enough money to buy William an apartment. But Marcelle’s friends and colleagues worry about her attachment to William, who is clearly suffering from his mental disabilities and starting to drift away from Marcelle. The subsequent art shows fail and, while Marcelle is away on a trip, William disappears. Will Marcelle and her friends find William? And in what condition? Mondays With William ends with limited answers.

Director Steve Beebe tells the tale of William and Marcelle in an uncritical way—she helps him with his craft while he provides her with a sense of accomplishment. Whether the two are exploiting each other is left out of the equation—just as art-world politics are ignored. But at least Beebe gives us enough backstory for us to care about both protagonists (the interview with William’s mother is indeed touching).

Beebe interrupts the chronology of events with talking-head interviews about mental illness and the problems of homelessness, yet the underlining story holds together. In fact, Mondays With William becomes downright suspenseful during the last reels when Marcelle searches frantically for the missing William.

In any case, the highlights of the film are neither the climactic melodramatics nor the interstitial public-service pronouncements What art-house audiences will be interested in most is the art itself, which is frankly hit-and-miss. Some of William’s paintings are excellent, others less so, but what is most curious is the diversity of his styles. His drippages recall the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1960s and most of them are satisfying. His more representational portraits vary from primitivist to impressionistic. When Beebe pans the surfaces of the canvases, Mondays With William is more engrossing than when it focuses on the two leads, particularly Marcelle, who talks so much she becomes tiresome. It is also insightful to see how William creates his works, although the film does not show enough of this.

Though affecting, Mondays With William should have been more illuminating.