By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
It takes a great deal of skill to render the mundane beautiful, to make it feel true to life and still entertaining, engaging, and Kelly Reichhardt has that skill in spades.
Which she could also probably make seem pretty damn interesting.
Her latest wonder, Certain Women, spins out three stories of the poetry of the normal; in the first a lawyer played by Laura Dern has a tough time getting her possibly chauvinist client (Jared Harris) to understand he can’t take his personal injury case to court, in the second a city woman (Michelle Williams) negotiates for some sandstone for her house from a rural lifer (Rene Auberjonois) reluctant to sell, and in the third a stablehand (Lily Gladstone) develops a crush on a lawyer (Kristen Stewart) moonlighting teaching school law in her small town.
Kelly Reichhardt is the master of nothing much going on, filling what may feel like a dearth of plot or action instead with closely observed life, veiled emotions, unspoken pain or conflict, and the little gestures and actions that can devastate a person or lift them to rapture with their faces barely betraying their feelings. It’s a cinema of subtlety, and in an incredible tightrope walk for both director and actors.
Part of her success in this difficult balancing act is how she lets scenes play out and actors carry them to places even she must not anticipate. And what a cast she has here, with each of the four central female leads killing it in their scant screentime. However, Stewart and Gladstone in the last segment are definitely the best- the way Gladstone looks at Stewart as she chows down after every class, or how the quietly romantic horseride scene sets up an excellent finale that feels both inevitable and emotionally crushing is top notch in every respect.
That’s not to say Reichhardt has no technical chops, though. She has a really interesting way of placing the camera- like a scene of a father backing up his car while looking backward into the camera as he addresses daughter in the backseat (and us). The Montana setting and it’s gorgeous snow-covered mountain vistas and wind-swept plains certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
That’ll do. Yes, that’ll do.
Jared Harris felt a bit too theatrical and over the top for me- not hugely so, but any amount of actorly artifice rings loud in a film as low-key and measured as this one. It doesn’t help that he inhabits the least sketched out and most incidental sketch of the bunch, the first, which barrels ahead with more plot, and strangely less of note, than the other two.
Certain Women is once again a minutely observed, emotionally subtle yet powerful drama delivered by that master of them, Kelly Reichardt.
Certain Women (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Sip: for knee-jerk sexism
Take a Drink: for characters crossing storylines
Take a Drink: for awkward moments
Do a Shot: for emotional outbursts