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Greetings again from the darkness. This is surely one of the most
intriguing movies of the year that is about women and by a woman.
Writer/director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, 2008) has adapted the
short stories from Maile Meloy into a film with 3 segments focusing on
the daily perseverance of three women in small town Montana (including
a rare Wyoming joke).
The first segment has lawyer Laura Dern returning to the office after an umm "long lunch meeting". Waiting for her is her client played by Jared Harris ("Mad Men"). The frustration between the two is palpable. Things take a turn for the worse as the sheriff calls Dern to the scene where Harris has taken a hostage at gunpoint. The issues on display here include the lack of respect for a female attorney, her unsatisfying personal life, and the one-way trust that can happen in times of desperation.
In the next story, we follow Michelle Williams and her husband James LeGros as they meet with a lonely elderly neighbor (Rene Auberjonis) and offer to buy some limestone blocks that have been sitting on his property for decades. The subtlety of the conversation embodies the missing respect and power of Ms. Williams' character.
Emotions are exploding beneath the surface in the third segment featuring horse handler Lily Gladstone as she stumbles into a class being taught by Kristen Stewart, and is immediately captivated by the smart young teacher. Where this attraction leads is further commentary on the challenges faced by those trying to escape the daily drudgery of their lives.
The above recaps don't come close to capturing the extraordinary quiet and stillness that director Reichardt uses in an emotionally powerful manner. These three women are all intelligent and filled with both pride and visceral disappointment each quietly suffering, yet trudging forward with the emptiness each day brings. They each have a feeling of isolation even if they aren't truly alone, and failed or lackluster relationships certainly play a role.
The acting and cinematography (film, not digital!) is as expert as the directing. Ms. Gladstone is truly a standout by saying few words out loud, but speaking volumes with her open and pleading eyes. The nuance of each scene is where the most interest is, and the overall mood of the characters and tone of the stories overcome the fact that we are plopped into these lives with little or no backstory. As each one softly crashes (two figuratively, one literally), we understand these are the faces of strong women who will continue to do what's necessary even if that's shoveling horse poop. The film is dedicated to Ms. Reichardt's dog Lucy (a key to her personal and professional life).
I appreciate a pretty wide variety of films. I wouldn't call myself an
indie junkie, but I like creativity that gets me to think or be aware
in a new way and indie can certainly do that. Of course, sometimes
aspects of a film will evade me (what was X about? what did Y mean?)
and then I seek out others--and IMDb--to fill in the gaps.
I have to admit, I left this film lost and unsatisfied. Too MUCH of it was a gap for me. Sure, I had some basic insights: how the normal-ness of life is worthy of attention and how the painful constancy of loneliness exists in so many lives. The acting was good. I found the long pans and the "un-action" movie action interesting. At least for a while. But by about halfway, that was it. Those insights just repeated themselves. I spent the second half hoping for something to shed light, to at least tie some loose ends together. But it never came.
And it wasn't just me and my friend. As we sat in the emptying theater after the movie, discussing our thoughts about it, an elderly lady shuffled out behind us and said, "I don't mean to blow my own horn, but I have a Ph.D. in English Literature. And STILL I can't figure out what that movie was about! Do you?" So it wasn't just me.
This is all I can conclude: This film slowly detailed 3 vignettes, suggesting there was something being told. Then it had nothing to say. Maybe it's a Zen thing. But it wasn't a satisfying experience for me. The stories came out of nowhere and went nowhere, albeit with some beautiful scenes and emotions presented along the way and excellent acting. When it was over, there was no "there" there for me. I think that's what left me feeling unsatisfied. It was like a pretty mosaic left in pieces. I can infer that someone formed a design with it and I want to see that design. But it's in pieces and, try as I might, I can't put the pieces together. In fact, it feels like some pieces are missing. So I walk away baffled.
Maybe this says more about me than this movie. Whatever the case, I walked away unsettled and not in an enlightened way. That didn't feel good.
Director Kelly Reicart knows strong women and the strong circumstances
they've faced moving West (Meek's Cutoff) and more than 100 years later
the modern Northwest (Certain Women). Big Sky Country, Montana, is the
modern setting: Billings, Bozeman, and environs, the places where three
women are ignored by men, misunderstood by both men and women, and call
many of the shots that may end up putting food on their tables and
courage in their hearts.
Although feminists should be proud of the three heroines in Certain Women, their actions are not so much the stuff of heroics as they mostly navigate around misogyny and sloth in a world that mostly listens to men first even if the women are right most of the time.
Laura Wells (Laura Dern) is an attorney with not really a thriving practice, but she gets along. One client, Fuller (Jared Harris), is a worker trying in vain to get more compensation for an accident while he slowly becomes derailed. In the most fraught incident of the trilogy, she must enter a building with a bullet-proof vest to face him as he holds a guard hostage. That she is the one to confront him, and not a crisis squad, is one of the stories' touches that clarifies why the heroines are "certain" women.
Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams) is building a prairie house, part of which will be built with a pile of stones, she, not her husband, tries to convince an old man to sell. Her quiet resolve in the face of mostly feckless men is not so much heroic as it is her certainty that she must be the strong one.
Jamie (Lily Gladstone), a portly ranch hand who falls for an evening school teacher-lawyer, Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart), is the least glamorous of the three (no I Phone for this cowgirl) but with an inner depth that eclipses the other two. Jamie and Beth's evening ride to the diner on a horse is romantic in a subtle way rarely seen before.
If you think I haven't described anything dramatically worthy of a full-length motion picture, you're right. The real drama bleeds out of the actors' interior depictions, the personal strength that overcomes diminishment by the vast plains, snow-capped mountains, and weak men.
Because the three episodes are derived from native Maile Maloy's short stories, Certain Women is a tour de force of feminism disguised as rambling stories of women making a hard living in a hard West. Hooray for them as the cowboys and the horses are not the real forces at work.
"Certain Women" (2016 release; 107 min.) brings several stories about
ordinary women in a remote community in Montana. As the movie opens, we
get to know Laura Wells, a lawyer who just had a quickie with her lover
over lunch time ("I had a meeting", she says to her assistant upon
getting back to the office). Waiting for Laura is a disgruntled client,
who feels he's been cheated out of an injury settlement he feels he's
entitled to. An exasperated Laura decides to take him to another lawyer
for a second opinion. At this point we're 10 min. into the movie but to
tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll
just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from writer-director-editor Kelly Reichardt, the acclaimed indie movie director who previously brought us "Wendy & Lucy" and "Meek's Cutoff" (both starring Michelle Williams, who returns here as well). The movie brings three basically unrelated stories (based on Maile Meloy's collection "Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It"), and they all involve very ordinary people and ordinary lives that are shook up in one way or another (I'm biting my lips here, but won't spoil anything). The first story stars Laura Dern as the lawyer and Jared Harris as the disgruntled client; the second story stars Michelle Williams as the wife/mother in a strained marriage. The best, though, is saved for last, when we watch with fascination (and heartbreak) what unfolds between Kristen Stewart (as the Livingston, MT lawyer teaching a school law class in faraway Belfry, MT) and Lily Gladsone (as the lonesome horse rancher attending the class). I cannot recall seeing Kristen Stewart being more authentic in any previous role, even as compared to her roles in, say, "On the Road" or "The Runaways". Another major plus for the movie is that Reichardt lets a scene develop. Certain camera shots seemingly last forever. I don't mean to be snobby, but one of the reviews posted here gives this movie the lowest possible rating and compares it to 'watching paint dry'. I feel rather sorry for that person that he or she cannot appreciate a high quality movie like "Certain Women" (it is not a coincidence that this is rated 96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes).
"Certain Women" premiered at the Sundance film festival earlier this year to great acclaim, and finally opened this past weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Tuesday evening screening where I saw this at was attended very nicely, and you could hear a pin drop during much of the movie, as the audience seemed glued to their seat and the big screen. If you are in the mood for a top-notch indie movie with several great character studies and correlating outstanding acting performances, you cannot go wrong with this. "Certain Women" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Pretty fine piece of work, flawless.
But no one should review this film. Ignore the ratings. The best thing would be you sit down with the expectations you cultivated all your life, and take the trip. For my part, it was maybe 20 minutes after the closing credits I realized what had happened to me. And if you're lucky, you'll find out too.
I've written myself into a corner, and I don't care to discuss it. No wait, there is something I'd like to say here. The most interesting character is the director. Maybe that's how it should be. Kelly Reichardt is now required viewing for me. I wouldn't have guessed she was so young. And now I want to see her other work, but mostly where she goes from here.
Kelly Reichardt knows how to use a camera. Problem is, she only uses it
for filming, not for telling a story. Doesn't help that she chooses non
stories to tell. Or is that not to tell?
My wife and I have tried hard with her films, but after this dismal effort we've placed an embargo upon all her future work. Enough's enough.
The long, dull, opening scenic shot of barren land and a train rolling in sets the dross tone of the film and everything in it.
Ironically, despite the title, the only interesting character and trace of story is in Jared Harris' character.
The episodes/vignettes that comprise this film aren't enough to fill a bad 30 minute TV slot. There's simply nothing there, and nothing told.
What you do get, are endless scenes watching people doing nothing: Like someone driving, or feeding animals, or just looking at nothing. Scenes that have simply nothing to say at least not of any interest.
But you'll also get what are nothing more than 'stills': Like a shot of an empty room AFTER someone's left.
Anyone can point a camera and press record. And that's all you get with this piece from Reichardt. No story. There's nothing special or particular about how she films. It's very much just point and shoot, usually with boring subject matter, and next to no movement.
As writers, we learn that every scene must reveal character and move the story forward. You will see in this film exactly what happens when you don't do that.
Somebody had the poor taste to compare this film to I'm Not a Serial Killer. Absolutely not. And let's not get started on assertions that it's "required viewing."
And like all independent films that are directed by people so entranced by their own sense of magnificence, this film ends abruptly with an unprompted, unmotivated CUT to black in the middle of yet another meaningless scene.
Reichardt's choice of when to end raises the burning question: Why wait for this dull, repetitive, meaningless scene when virtually every scene before it would have served the same point?
What disturbs me most, is that someone thought this was worth funding.
You know from the movie previews and the rumblings from the multiplex's adjacent theater that today's movies are heavily weighted toward "action films." Writer-director-editor Kelly Reichardt could singlehandedly reverse that trend with Certain Women, which can most succinctly be described as an "inaction film." It's kind of hard to get used to Reichardt's pace, so you might watch this and think "Wha---?" Here, the drama is at the deep inside the characters, hidden from all views except the closest. And that's what it gets from Reichardt"a poet of silences and open spaces," says A.O. Scott in the New York Times. Based on short stories by Maile Meloy, the film is set in and around Livingston, Montana, and the views of the lonely snowswept plains are breathtaking. The story is presented in three separate vignettes that barely intersect. In the first, Laura Dern plays Laura Wells, a lawyer trying to convince her persistent client (Jared Harris) that he can't sue his former employer for on-the-job injuries because he already accepted a settlement. The client doesn't believe it until a male lawyer tells him the same thing. She's disappointed at many levelswith her clients, her career, her love life. The middle vignette involves Gina (Michelle Williams), a married woman with a disaffected teenage daughter. She and her husband are building a new house, and she hopes to convince a slightly addled, elderly neighbor (Rene Auberjonois) to sell them a pile of unused sandstone blocks in his front yard. Behind Gina's bright smile, you can feel her irritation that the neighbor focuses his attention not on her request but on her husband, eliding the decision, and finally the husband sells her out. Even within the bosom of her family, it's clear, she's alone. The dreamiest and most poignant sequence follows the young woman Jamiebeautifully underplayed by Lily Gladstoneon her daily routine, feeding and caring for a group of horses on a remote ranch. The repetitiveness of her tasks in the snowy, mountains in the distance, is mesmerizing. Her routine and her equilibrium are disturbed by a chance acquaintance with Beth, a harried young lawyer played by Kristen Stewart, overwhelmed by her own, very different grind. The extent of Jamie's disturbance is painfully revealed in her quiet face, upon which "silent passion surges like an underground stream," Scott says. The acting is subtle and true, and Reichardt closely follows the dictum, "show, don't tell." Her characters don't scream and rail and tell you what their issues are. You see it laid bare in front of you.
I like to see independent films,they have certain charm to them,they talk about personal things,without any showing off or big budget stuff in the big productions. But when it comes to this film, i failed to see the purpose to it. So all the leading characters are women,great then what. Sadly nothing,it's painful to see how much slow and boring it is. And you keep waiting for the big reveal ,the one that will make all this meaningless stories finally make sense. but that never happens as well. I mean what's the connection between the four women,what's so special about them,why are we watching them. No clue. I guess not all the independent films are worth seeing,this one is no exception.
This movie has great actors and was playing at Amerst Cinema which usually shows only very good films, many independent. However, I feel compelled to say this is not a movie worth paying to see in the theater. It watches like a hastily finished school film project. It had no real storyline, just slice of life stuff that wasn't really too interesting. Maybe I'm not as sophisticated as some film people but I'd guess at least 9 out of 10 people who watch this film won't enjoy it at all and those few that claim they did will do so only because they think it makes some sort of deep point but, if given truth serum no one would or could actually claim to have been entertained. As an aside, it also makes the wonderful state of Montanna seem like a terrible place, which it's not! Anyway, wait for Netflix because this is not worth paying your hard earned money to see - trust me!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Kelly Reichardt wrote and directed this triptych of a screenplay set in
Montana, based on a collection of short stories by Maile Meloy.
Reichardt is known for slow-moving plots and prefers character studies
to fill out her often lugubrious narratives. In each of the three
segments that constitute Certain Women, Reichardt's protagonists are
women who attempt to maintain a quiet dignity despite being stifled by
people devoted to blocking their self-actualization.
In the first segment, Laura Dern plays attorney Laura Wells who is unable to shake off disgruntled client Fuller (Jared Harris), who seeks to re-open a civil suit but has been informed by both Laura and her attorney colleague that he has no legal leg left to stand on. When Fuller takes a security guard hostage at his former place of employment, Laura is called in by the local police to act (in the unlikely scenario) as hostage negotiator. When Fuller lets the security guard go and asks Laura to give him a head start as he scurries out of the back of the building, Laura immediately informs the police of Fuller's whereabouts, and he's placed under arrest.
In the second and least successful of the segments, Michelle Williams plays Gina who is married to Ryan (James Le Gros). Gina is constantly annoyed with her husband who appears to indulge their rebellious teenage daughter. Gina has placed herself in charge of building a new family home out in a rural areaall she has to do is convince Albert, an elderly family acquaintance, to part with the sandstone on his property which she would like to use in the construction of the new home. Albert tentatively agrees to selling the sandstone and soon afterward, Gina's workers come to take possession of it. But when Gina waves to him as her stares out the window from his home, he doesn't react. Did Gina intimidate him into doing something he didn't really want to do? This is perhaps the only real ambiguity in Reichardt's "what you see is what you get" narrative.
The third segment features Jamie (Lily Gladstone), a young Native American ranch hand, who stumbles upon a continuing education class on educational law taught by attorney Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart). Beth amazingly travels four hours each way to teach the class and Jamie ends up taking an immediate liking towards the moonlighting attorney. Soon afterward they go out to eat a couple of times at a greasy spoon but eventually Beth fails to show up at the class, much to Jamie's chagrin. Jamie discovers that Beth stopped teaching because she could no longer tolerate the travel time.
Jamie decides to make the four hour drive to see if she can find Beth. When she finally tracks Beth down, they have a brief conversation but nothing comes of it. Lonely Jamie makes the trek back to the farm. End of segment.
Certain Women is very loosely interconnected by a few plot strands. Laura has been having an affair with Gina's husband, and Beth happens to be employed in the same building where Laura works.
If you can't stand lugubrious plots, Certain Women is an immediate "no-go." In terms of character development (the area where Reichardt is supposed to shine), that part of the narrative is also exceptionally weak. None of the three protagonists has much of a discernible internal arc, except maintaining the aforementioned "quiet dignity." One wonders what to think of Laura and Ginatheir egos are intact and they seem to accomplish their goalsdespite the obstacles put in their way (in Laura's case, it's resolving her "bad client" problem; with Gina it's consummating the sale of the sandstone and moving ahead in spite of her husband and daughter's "bad attitude"). Yet nothing much happens except for the quiet satisfaction of weathering a few not very dramatic opponents.
The case of Jamie is a bit different. She's the only protagonist who doesn't get what she wants, and is perhaps the only "sad sack" of the three. Sad sacks unfortunately don't make for good drama so when Jamie arrives back home, we're forced to revel in her failure.
If you must see Certain Women, see it for the plush Montana landscapes and the capable acting on the part of the principals. Unfortunately, good parts for women in the cinema today remain hard to come by. Certain Women certainly fails to contribute to such a pantheon.
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