Certain WomenReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 10/22/16 02:37:45
(Worth A Look)
Since making her debut with the 1994 drama “River of Grass,” director Kelly Reichardt has been quietly amassing one of the most significant bodies of work of any American independent filmmaker of her era with such films as “Old Joy,” “Wendy and Lucy,” the extraordinary “Meek’s Cutoff” and “Night Moves.” Her latest work, “Certain Women,” may not quite hit the dazzling heights of her finest efforts but it is still a more-than-worthy entry in her filmography.The film offers up a trio of loosely connected vignettes based on some short stories by author Maile Meloy focusing on a group of women in Montana struggling to make themselves heard and acknowledged in a world that seems destined to overlook them. In the first, Laura Dern plays a lawyer who gets all the crummy cases that her firm attracts and whose current client (Jared Harris) has just taken a night watchman hostage in a half-assed attempt to protest a workman’s comp judgement that went against him. Next up, Michelle Williams plays a woman who is constantly being taken for granted by her husband (James LeGros) and their sullen daughter and who attempts to sublimate her anger by planning out her dream home, which only brings her further humiliation when she and her husband go to visit an aging neighbor (Rene Auberjonois) to inquire about buying his stockpile of sandstone. In the final segment, a ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) with nothing better to do happens upon a night class on educational law and becomes fascinated with the teacher (Kristen Stewart), a recent law school graduate who has to drive four hours each way to get to this twice-weekly job.
The flaw with “Certain Women” is the one the often befalls films of this type—just as wen have become fully engrossed in one story and its characters, it then moves on to the next and we have to start all over again. (To be fair, the connections that are deployed to tie the stories together are pretty clever without straining credulity.) This is especially a problem here because each one of the stories here could have easily been fleshed out into their own feature narrative without losing anything in the process. Of the three, the opening one involving the lawyer and her unhinged client is the least of the bunch because it is the most familiar from a dramatic standpoint, though it makes up for that with strong performances by Dern and Harris as two people at the end of their respective ropes. The middle story is a painful and wounding look at a marriage and a life beginning to crack from its own strains and features yet another wonderful performance from Michelle Williams, who previously collaborated with Reichardt on “Wendy and Lucy” and “Meek’s Cutoff”—the scene in which she tries to communicate with the elderly neighbor who essentially ignores all of her overtures while talking at length with her husband is so quietly heartbreaking that you almost have to look away from the screen. The best is saved for last, however, with the story about the student and her teacher that doesn’t go off in any of the expected ways, contains beautiful performances from the relatively unknown Gladstone and the increasingly extraordinary Stewart and a conclusion that is just about perfect.Because it lacks any of the expected dramatic fireworks that one might expect—there are no big grandstanding scenes that feel designed to serve as clips on the Oscars and even the hostage situation has only begun to build up the expected tension before letting it quickly dissipate—and because there are no scenes in which Reichardt has her characters awkwardly spell out what they are striving for in their lives, there is the possibility that some viewers may find “Certain Women” to be boring and uneventful and come out of it wondering what that was all supposed to be about. However, those who want to experience the sight of several wonderful actresses working under the sure hand of a thoughtful and inventive filmmaker in a film that quietly and effectively gives voice to thoughts and concerns that are too often overlooked these days in film in the rush to create one tentpole epic after another, “Certain Women” should prove to be a film to treasure.
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