Tuesday, October 4, 2016


When Kelly Reichardt introduced her latest film to the audience at the 54th annual New York Film Festival she cited Chantal Akerman as a constant source of inspiration. After having watched Certain Women that makes perfect sense. While Reichardt's latest film is much louder than anything Chantal Akerman could ever make (in terms of ambient sounds & background noise), the dialogue is sometimes sparse and there's a lingering focus on banalities like chores & teeth brushing which is a strong characteristic of Akerman's work. I enjoyed Certain Women very much but if someone were to call it "boring" I don't know if I'd argue that. I just happen to like (well-crafted) "boring" movies sometimes. And if you're a fan of Reichardt's films then you'll more than likely enjoy this.

One of the best things about Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women is that even though it's an anthology film composed of three (separate) stories, they aren't really connected like so many of these kinds of films tend to be (sure there is one character that is constant throughout each story in a Steve Buschemi in Mystery Train kind of way but it's a minor-yet-major-yet-minor thing that's never really resolved and is only casually addressed).
I think we all know that "making everything connect" was a common plot device that many directors utilized between the late 80's (Mystery Train), throughout all of the 90's (Slacker, 71 Fragments..., Pulp Fiction, 2 Days In The Valley, etc), and in to the early 2000's (Code Unknown). Some directors were (and still are) good and/or great at making connections between they're ensemble players & multi-layered storylines (Linklater, Jarmusch, Haneke) but this plot device got a little old after almost two decades. Certain Women is the first anthology film to grab my attention in a long time because Reichardt kind of took the basic format (three stories concerning women at different stages in life) and stripped away all the "coolness" (Mystery Train), pop references (Pulp Fiction) and spurts of explosive violence (71 Fragments, Pulp Fiction, 2 Days In The Valley) and put her own unique touch on things.
The first story concerns a lawyer (Laura Dern) who's called in to defuse a hostage situation that one of her clients is responsible for.
The second story is about the rising marital issues/tension between a wife (Michelle Williams) & husband (James Legros) who are on the eve of building their dream home.
The final story focuses on the shy awkward (one-sided) attraction between a ranch-hand (Lily Gladstone) and a young lawyer (Kristen Stewart).

Besides the one character that loosely ties the three stories together, there are other (subconscious) connections - both Dern & Stewart are lawyers and every major female character is exhausted for one reason or another. But each story still stands on its own.

James Legros
This is Kelly Reichardt's first film utilizing the anthology/multiple storyline format so it's cool to see a 20+ year veteran try something new (what may be old to us may still be new for her). Certain Women also deals with new subject matter for Reichardt like romantic feelings under the umbrella of insecurity and/or uncertainty (Gladstone) and visible cracks in a marriage (Williams & Legros). James Legros & Michelle Williams have good chemistry and do a wonderful job at conveying the growing tension that can sometimes happen between two people in a marriage (although their circumstances are different than your "standard" marriage, their story still shows that no matter how "unconventional" a marriage may be, there's always going to be tension & resentment at some point). In my personal opinion, Kelly Reichardt & Michelle Williams make a great team (this is their third collaboration) and between Drugstore Cowboy & Safe to Living In Oblivion & Night Moves, James Legros should be considered an icon of modern American indie film at this point.

Lily Gladstone

Now...I don't mean to dismiss the majority of Certain Women because it really is just fine and serves its purpose but the final story concerning Lilly Gladstone & Kristen Stewart is the whole movie for me. Gladstone wears every insecure, anxious & scared emotion on her face like a seasoned veteran actor would yet she's a newcomer. Her performances as "Jamie" makes me wish there was a Netflix series about her character just doing chores and working up the courage to tell her crush how she really feels but never gets the opportunity to do so.

I'm still very much a "fixed" person. I like when personal favorite filmmakers of mine stick to what they're good/great at. Certain Women is still very much a standard Reichardt film no matter how much new/new-ish territory is explored (that's meant to be a complement rather than a criticism) - natural surroundings, fall season color palettes, minimalist/sparse guitar-based music score, female leads, etc.

Whether Kelly Reichardt realizes this or not - she is a cinematic voice for women in America. Would it have been nice to see a little more "diversity" in the cast? Absolutely. But I'm not gonna dwell on that too much (and it's not my movie). Certain Women's casting choices felt natural. And what makes Reichardt's exploration of womanhood & "femininity" so natural is that not all of her movies focus on women (both Old Joy & Night Moves are very male-driven). So when she does decide to focus on female characters it feels special.

Although I'd prefer a "Reichardt novice" start with something like Old Joy or Wendy & Lucy, I wouldn't be opposed to this being someone's introduction to her filmography (this is her most recognizable cast to date so it's bound to get a bigger audience in comparison to her previous work).


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