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REVIEW: Certain Women

March 3, 2017

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Screenplay: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, James Le Gros, Jared Harris, Lily Gladstone, René Auberjonois
Runtime: 107 Minutes

 

★★★★☆

 

Kelly Reichardt’s soulful portraits of the women in America’s changing landscape come to the forefront of Certain Women; a triptych of stories – based on stories by Maile Meloy – and a quartet of women of different ages and lifestyle, whose lives cross over without interference as we enter their lives to observe their behaviours and acts of agency in a world where they are constantly being either ignored or overruled by men.

 

We dip into the perspectives of Reichardt’s female subjects in their day to day lives as their efforts to provide forward momentum are either stifled or unaddressed by the male figures around them. From husbands and partners to the very systems of society and expectations of their roles and knowledge within their field, they are striving to do better and accomplish their goals by their own means if not with them.

 

Laura Dern’s lawyer faces strain from a disgruntled client (Jared Harris) who won’t take her advice regarding his disability, which escalates into a conflict that might have been avoided if only she were a man – a sentiment Dern at one point voices to one of her colleagues. Michelle Williams is facing difficulties with her family as they try to build a new home from the ground up, and in her effort to persuade an elderly gentleman (René Auberjonois) to sell them his sandstone becomes an arduous challenge as he continually ignores her in favour of speaking about himself or to her unfaithful husband (James LeGros).

 

The third story feels like the saddest and most emotionally revealing as a young rancher, Jamie (Lily Gladstone), takes on a night course and becomes bewitched by her struggling teacher, Beth (Kristen Stewart). Jamie is balancing her emotions toward Beth which may be more than platonic, but is also a desperately lonely individual who finds a kinship in Beth as she struggles to maintain a work balance with her extensive travelling to and from the course.

 

The performances are phenomenal from all four women. Dern is a stern and commanding presence, Williams sense of will and determination shines through her role as a wilting flower, newcomer Lily Gladstone shows extensive range and promise in a deeply sad portrayal, and for the few scenes she is in Stewart steals everything through exhaustive resign being thrust forward by expectation and a resolve of her own.

 

It feels more like a collection of three short films stacked together, but they do carry individual purpose and angles of approach. It’s a cold and moody feature but a patient and quiet one that hangs on in discussion. Reichardt’s direction is as beautiful as ever, and the performances are potent and impressive.

 

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