Certain Women explores the struggles of everyday women in a quiet yet powerful new film by Kelly Reichardt.
Kelly Reichardt’s artistic and minimalist perspective is prevalent once again, this time portraying the lives of three women in Livingston, Montana. Certain Women is inspired by the short stories of the Montana-based author Maile Meloy and it shows how three everyday women mark their path in a small town.
The first story centres on Laura Wells (Laura Dern), a lawyer dealing with a client (Jared Harris) who’s seeking compensation after a work accident. His lack of trust towards the female lawyer leads him to seek further advice from a male lawyer, but when he hears once again that he’s not entitled to compensation, he becomes unpredictable.
Laura Wells is also having an affair with a married man, Ryan Lewis (James LeGros) and we gradually learn that he’s the husband of Gina Lewis, the character in the second story.
Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams) is camping with her husband and her daughter, while also planning to build a house. In the second part of the film, they visit an old family friend and try to convince him to sell them vintage sandstone, in an attempt to build their new home from repurposed native materials.
Gina’s family struggles make her determined to build this house as a form of unity, to create the nest she’s been looking for. This story unfortunately isn’t the strongest part of the film, but Michelle Williams still delivers a very convincing performance, using silence effectively to present her thoughts.
The third story is the most emotional, focusing on a lonely Native American horse rancher who finds human connection in a school class. Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart) is a law school graduate teaching school law and Jamie (Lily Gladstone) is immediately fascinated enough to attend regularly. Jamie joins Beth in the town’s diner after class on several occasions, feeling that she’s found the connection she has been craving. This third part manages to contrast nature and photography to depict a quiet, lonely life and how even the slightest change can give meaning to Jamie’s existence.
It’s during the end of the film that Reichardt proves why words are not always significant if the expressions of the actors and the setting offers the right tone. Lily Gladstone delivers an impressive performance, elevated purely by her emotions rather than words to portray the character’s feelings. Equally, the American vastness and impressive photography portray the internalised emotion in a way that only Kelly Reichardt can achieve.
All four women share the need to be heard in their own way, trying to deal with their community, their family, their life choices, their friends, their routine, and most importantly themselves. However, these needs are rarely externalised. It’s the actors’ moving performances that offer complex representations of female characters; the beautifully nuanced antiheroes in a film that clearly never sought for the heroic element.
Reichardt achieves a rare simplicity with Certain Women, creating a moving portrait of four female characters and their daily struggles, leaving it up to us to fill in the details that were left unsaid. It may be slow and quiet but it still manages to captivate its audience. 4/5
This review was originally published as part of our London Film Festival coverage last October.