Certain Women (2016)

A triptych of stories of ordinary women in Montana, whose vulnerabilities and desires are given the quiet Kelly Reichardt touch in this slow and contemplative work.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,058

Dir. Kelly Reichardt
2016 | USA | Drama | 107 mins | 1.85:1 | English
NC16 (passed clean) for some language

Cast: Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Lily Gladstone
Plot: The lives of three women intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail.
Awards: Official Selection (Sundance)
International Sales: UTA

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

Certain Women is Kelly Reichardt’s sixth feature to date, and in terms of personal style and narrative approach to storytelling and characterisation, she already comes fully-formed as an artist. 

Here we see her tackle a triptych of stories, loosely adapted from the work of Maile Meloy, centering on three ordinary women in Montana (or perhaps four if we like to include Kristen Stewart’s character, Elizabeth) whose paths may or may not cross each other’s, but they are connected in some way. 

The finest segment of the lot has got to be the one with Stewart and Lily Gladstone, the latter playing a lonely rancher who chances upon the former’s bi-weekly night class where she reluctantly travels eight hours to-and-fro to teach school law. 

The unnamed rancher finds herself slowly infatuated with Elizabeth, and it is a testament to Reichardt’s brand of ‘quiet’ cinema that this infatuation is portrayed in the most subtly repressed yet deeply emotional of manner. 

“Why were you afraid of selling shoes?”

On the other hand, Michelle Williams’ story of a woman in an apparently loveless marriage is rather undercooked, and at worst, inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things, though one might argue that when seen in the context of Laura Dern’s story, a lawyer who tries to tackle a difficult client, there is some meaning to be drawn about the desire for intimacy and connection in their mundane lives. 

All three women experience a potent sense of ennui at some point in the film, and this is where Reichardt’s work delivers its contemplative mood with aplomb.  While occasionally uneven, Certain Women is definitely worth a pop and a good place to start with her filmography. 

It is a slow but poetic slice-of-life depiction of women and their vulnerabilities, and while they may not show it—or perhaps are geographically-dwarfed by the wide expanses of open plains—they are surely women of grit and strength.

Grade: B+



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