Film Reviews

Certain Women Kelly Reichardt

Rating - 8/10
In its initial stretches, Kelly Reichardt's deliberated paced and seamless anthology drama, Certain Women, may feel like it's missing a certain dread or urgency that defines her last decade of persistently stellar, geographically specific work. But its soft accrual of lulling silences and profound stares come to reveal overarching emotional truths in the lives and well-being of four working women through the heart of Montana. A quintessential example of art that functions as more than the sum of its parts, the film is a creatively refashioned adaptation of Maile Meloy's short stories from Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It (2009). As Robert Altman's Short Cuts (1993) intelligently interlaced various Raymond Carver tales, Certain Women elevates Meloy's singular meanings in its examination of small but serendipitous intersections that progressively delve deeper into the minutiae of female experience. Whether as a practiced personal injury lawyer, a single-minded mother and aspiring architect, a lone rancher, or a young school law professor, their latter-day narratives are steadied by a sense of discipline and determination in uncompromising landscapes.
Beginning with a painterly long shot of railway, an approaching train's horn pierces the distant mountainous terrain juxtaposed with vastly barren plains. Nearly indistinct radio chatter underscores shots of Livingston, Montana's edifices and skyline. In both foreshadowing narrative events and celebrating distinctly Western milieu, Reichardt later revisits these sights and sounds with poignancy during a destined interstate journey. But in the present moment, she and her cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt zoom into the apartment and affairs of the recently intimate Laura Wells (Laura Dern), who prepares to head to her law office to matter-of-factly deal with an obstinate and myopic client named Fuller (Jared Harris). Although she's disputed the legality of his injury claim for eight straight months, Laura's been unable to reassure him until arranging a meeting with another male lawyer, every bit her equal, in Billings, MT. While this segment threatens to derail in Fuller's unchecked, white-hot anger at his negligible contractor, it sustains as the most feminist in its sobering, overt language that succinctly characterizes an honest woman's struggle against systemic patriarchy.
The more subtle dynamic of a distressed marriage defines the film's sudden relocation to the edge of wilderness with the yurt-dwelling Lewis family. Middle-aged husband Ryan (James LeGros) is instantly recognizable as the man sleeping with Laura Wells. This revelation eludes his wife Gina (Michelle Williams), who is focused on finding solace and strength in solitary hikes and plans for long-term self-sufficiency. In order to accomplish her ideal of building an authentic historical home for their teen daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier), Gina is set on purchasing a lot of sandstone from a collapsed schoolhouse on the property of the elderly Albert (René Auberjonois). Unfortunately, he is more interested in tangential conversation with Ryan than hearing Gina out and thus poses as a spiritual transgressor analogous to Fuller in the first story. In his unwillingness to accept her as the essential draughtswoman and head of household, Albert traps himself in a sanctuary of reminiscence and remains ignorant to Gina's passion project. Amongst the men in these two narratives, Meloy's and Reichardt's patient women persevere alone in the face of tragically routine betrayal and gender discrimination.
As the most thoroughly engrossing episode, Certain Women's third arc considerately constructs an interior and exterior world indicative of its fateful associations and thematic ambition. Jamie (Lily Gladstone), a rural horse rancher, travels to Belfry on a whim, and wanders into a Tues-Thurs night class of students seeking to specialize in school law. Their teacher is a weary-eyed out-of-towner, Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart), who's oblivious to Jamie's charmed attentiveness after four-hour drives to-and-from Livingston. In seeking meaningful reciprocation, Jamie offers to lead Beth to the nearest diner. During courteous, if ultimately terse, conversations, these two soulful, richly imagined women unveil their pasts, while the film emphasizes the loving comforts and necessities of routine. From Jamie's privately modest work to the earnest attempts to reach Beth, her character's psyche imparts the film with an instinctual permanence. The daily grind is further anchored by Jamie's emotional yearning for company in quixotic gestures that share the same intensity and physical closeness as in the final part of Barry Jenkins' Moonlight (2016). Once Beth opts out of the class on account of her strenuous drive, Jamie impulsively treks to Livingston to search high and low for her, arriving full circle in the placidity of Reichardt's wintry spaces. Here, the lucid gravity of the everyday rapturously crosses the boundaries of individual experience.