Here are the FIRST reviews & reactions about 'Certain Women'!
Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read.
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•• TheWrap, Alonso Duralde: Powerful drama from writer-director Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy and Lucy”) further establishes her as an auteur who finds poignancy in the stillness
As American movies get louder and louder – seriously, outside of “The Revenant,” good luck finding anything in theaters that isn’t blasting you with wall-to-wall music and dialogue – the exquisite films of Kelly Reichardt become more powerful and more necessary. Following the haunting “Wendy and Lucy” and the bleakly satirical “Meek’s Cutoff,” Reichardt teams once again with Michelle Williams for “Certain Women,” another low-key but powerful examination of women under duress doing their best to strive and survive.
Based on a trio of short stories by author Maile Meloy (“Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It”), “Certain Women” threads these separate tales together with skill and subtlety, crossing paths when necessary but mostly uniting them through tone and subtext. And as with Reichardt’s previous work, the film provides a showcase for the kind of acting and cinematography that’s never showy but always perfectly appropriate to the narrative.
Then there’s Jamie (Lily Gladstone), whose day-in-day-out drudgery at a horse farm gets a reprieve with the sudden appearance of Beth (Kristen Stewart), a frazzled young attorney who’s teaching a class in “School Law” to the local teachers. (Said educators seem to be more interested in asking about parking spaces than students’ rights.) Beth has to drive four hours each way – she thought the class was in Belgrade, not Belfry – but Jamie joins her for dinner at the local truck stop each night before she has to drive back.
Jamie’s affection for Beth, and the surprising turns that affection takes, gives “Certain Women” its most heartfelt moments; Gladstone has the open, expressive face of a silent film star, and she beams in the presence of Stewart, herself providing another understated and heartfelt performance. (If you’re still thinking of the actress as a pop-culture punching bag, you’re really not paying attention. Go stream “Clouds of Sils Maria,” and sin no more.)
This being a Kelly Reichardt movie, all the performances are rock-solid, with all the players making the most of the writer-director’s gifts at silence and suggestion. Dern has been cornering the market on beatific moms lately, so it’s a treat to watch her play an intelligent, unsatisfied, exasperated woman, and seeing the legendary Auberjonois on the prairie immediately calls to mind his supporting role in the Robert Altman classic “McCabe & Mrs. Miller.”
Montana’s legendary big-sky-country setting gives cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt (“The Bling Ring”) many colors in his paintbox, from the pewter clouds over Laura’s law office to the tangerine sunrise behind Jamie as she goes through her daily chores of taking care of the horses.
“Certain Women” gives us female characters who are smart and complicated and funny and imperfect, and it never hand-delivers a message regarding what we’re supposed to think about them. But Reichardt’s affection for her characters and their circumstances shines through every frame, resulting in the kind of intelligent and artful work for which film fans worldwide troop up the Utah mountains every January.
•• The Guardian, Nigel M Smith: Rating 4/5
The indie auteur reunites with Meek’s Cutoff star Michelle Williams for a deeply-involving slow-burner also featuring Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern
Kelly Reichardt had proven herself a master at slow-burning, melancholic dramas with Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff. She switched gears with the eco-themed thriller Night Moves: a relatively mainstream feature that moved at a faster pace than her preceding work. Her latest, Certain Women, an adaptation of short stories by Maile Meloy, sees Reichardt tackle a contemplative ensemble drama that recalls the solemn tone set by her earlier work.
The first opens with what seems like the end of an adulterous tryst between lawyer Laura Wells (Laura Dern) and a gruff, handsome man named Ryan (James LeGros). Once at work, she’s surprised by a visit from her client, Fuller (Jared Harris), who’s seeking compensation for an office accident. Refusing to take Laura’s advice that he has no case, she agrees to bring Fuller to a male lawyer who offers the same counsel. Unable to accept defeat, Fuller takes matter into his own hands, bringing Laura along for the ride.
Ryan is revealed to be married to Gina (Williams), in the second and chilliest chapter. The pair, along with their bored teenage daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier), are camping near a plot of land on which the couple intent to build a house. On their way back to the city, the family make a stop to visit Albert (Rene Auberjonois), an old family friend, in an effort to persuade him to sell some vintage sandstone for use on their new venture, that he no longer has use for.
The third section section is the most nakedly emotional of the trio, centring on a Native American horse rancher (the wonderfully expressive Lily Gladstone), who seems to have no human interaction in her life while caring for her horses on a remote ranch. That changes when she happens upon a class on education law in the nearest town, and takes an immediate liking to its instructor, Elizabeth (Kristen Stewart), an overworked law-school graduate who commutes a long distance for the job. Over a number of post-class diner meals the pair bond, with the unnamed ranch hand soon believing their connection to be a romantic one.
Like Reichardt’s directorial hand, the performances are understated across the board, but deeply felt. Gladstone conveys a heartbreaking sense of yearning, while never verbally stating as much. Dern and Williams, playing women who face sexism over the course of their two storylines, simmer under the surface with palpable anger. And Stewart continues to impress, following a revelatory performance in Clouds of Sils Maria, as a young woman seemingly oblivious to the effect she has others.
Together, they form an indelible portrait of independent women at odds with their rural surroundings.
•• Variety, Guy Lodge: Kelly Reichardt's wonderful triptych of female character studies confirms her status as the quietest of great American filmmakers.
Few contemporary filmmakers can do quite as much with quiet as Kelly Reichardt. Superficially empty soundscapes are layered so intricately with the rustle of nature, the brooding of weather and the breathing of preoccupied people that her films come to seem positively noisy to a sympathetic ear. So it is in the marvelous “Certain Women,” where the storytelling has a similarly latent impact. Separating the spare narratives of several disparate Montana women — a morally stressed lawyer, a nest-building mother, a lonely ranch hand — waiting indefinitely for their worlds to fall into place, it’s a peculiarly riveting examination of the lives lived when even their owners aren’t looking. Crafted with Reichardt’s customary calico-textured beauty and expertly performed by such hand-picked ensemble players as Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams and Laura Dern, this unapologetically open-ended slow burn probably won’t convert many viewers to Reichardt’s softly-softly sensibility, but it’s among her richest, most refined works.
Like a number of Reichardt’s previous films, “Certain Women” has its roots in the short-story format — one naturally conducive to her flair for teasing larger lives and deeper longings out of passing everyday incidents. Her literary inspiration this time is Montana-based author Maile Meloy, with Reichardt’s elegantly apportioned script drawn from her stories “Tome,” “Native Sandstone” and “Travis B.” The director’s chosen title, however, is at once calculatedly vague and mournfully ironic. Read one way, “Certain Women” implies a kind of unnamed randomness to Reichardt’s chosen female subjects, as if any number of adjacent women’s lives might have been equally worthy of the film’s attention. Read another, it’s perhaps a gentle joke at the expense of characters for whom certainty is in achingly short supply: It’s hardly a spoiler to say that none of the pic’s delicate strands hinges on anything like a drastic dramatic decision.
Viewers accustomed to the knotty “Short Cuts” school of multiple short-story adaptation may take a while to acclimatize to the film’s patient, clean-edged structure, which opts neither for explicit chaptering nor for intricate braiding of the three stories in question. Revelation-concerned narrative splicing has become such a familiar feature of the U.S. independent filmmaking scene that it’s positively bracing to see Reichardt — also acting, with graceful discernment, as her own editor — unfold her mini-dramas one at a time, letting the sometimes faint connections between them emerge with little fanfare, revisiting their principal characters only in the final reels. If Paul Haggis’s “Crash” literalized the idea of storytelling as automotive collision, “Certain Women” prefers to let its vehicles pass each other with an acknowledging wave — apt enough for a film in which human contact doesn’t come easily to the yearning, inward-looking women at its center.
To describe the film’s individual segments on paper is not to do them many favors, even when they include such notionally hefty events as an armed hostage situation — as staged by Reichardt, returning to her trademark tender humanism after the icy genre stylings of “Night Moves,” surely the lowest-key such standoff in cinematic history. The first story centers on small-town lawyer Laura (Dern), introduced in the postcoital stages of an afternoon tryst with a married man — whose identity lends passive emotional complexity to a later section. Focus shifts to a legal case that has become something of a thorn in her side, as construction laborer Fuller (Jared Harris, devastatingly ragged) obstinately pursues an injury claim that a legal technicality prevents him from winning. Taking little heed of her counsel — because she’s a woman, Laura concludes with the weariness of experience — he implicates her in a more violent course of action.
Drily satirizing the opportunistic exploitation of tradition in the American heartland, Gina’s story is the most coolly oblique of the three. What follows is the most bittersweetly open-hearted, as a nameless Native American horse rancher (the revelatory Lily Gladstone) aimlessly seeks a personal connection at an adult education center. Stumbling by chance into a class on educational law for teachers, she develops an intense but innocent fascination with its young tutor, Beth (Stewart), a socially awkward law graduate who lives many towns over. The two develop a mutually bemused rapport over post-class diner meals, though when Beth abruptly quits the job, the terms of their new, ambiguously platonic romance become harder to parse.
There are no tidily concrete thematic ties to be found between these slender, piquant slices of life, though all touch on the generalities of human alienation and solitude for which E.M. Forster issued the poetic prescription to “only connect.” As with Reichardt’s more streamlined miniatures, regional detail accounts for much of the film’s lingering resonance, as her characters are molded by (and, in some cases, rail against) the landscape they inhabit. “Certain Women” is the director’s fifth film to be set against the pregnant skies and cornbread-colored grasslands of America’s Northwest — painted with misty iridescence on 16mm by Reichardt’s reliably brilliant cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt — and there’s a not-wholly-rueful sense here of indigenous tradition and etiquette passing into history. All the women here, however put-upon, are independent in ways that defy their staid surroundings.
Though this is arguably the most illustrious ensemble Reichardt has ever had to hand, the pic’s performance style is as casually organic and democratic as in any of her more scrappily cast early projects. There’s complete onscreen parity, for example, between a relative newcomer like Gladstone and a megawatt star like Stewart — both unobtrusively superb — while Williams, in her third collaboration with Reichardt, underplays with terse modesty. Playing most recognizably to a star persona is Dern, if only because said persona has been built on the kind of creased, empathetic decency that makes her a Reichardt natural.
•• Screendaily, Anthony Kaufman: With Certain Women, Kelly Reichardt confirms her status as cinema’s foremost poet of the American Northwest. Set in Montana, and based on a series of short stories by native Maile Meloy, this film combines three loosely connected vignettes centered around professional women and their encounters with others from the community.
Reichardt paints an unromanticised portrait of life in the Big Sky state, one surrounded by snow-covered mountains, the wailing sounds of nearby freight trains, and industrious folks who are just trying to get by. It is a patiently told film, comprised of observational slices of life rather than the standard plotlines one usually finds at the art-house. For that reason, Certain Women may be one of Reichardt’s least commercial films in years. And yet, buoyed by critical praise and the film’s starry cast (Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart), it should still have a long life on the festival circuit, in museums, and on ancillary platforms.
The film opens with the story of a lawyer played by Dern, whose client (Jared Harris) was injured on the job and feels cheated by his worker’s compensation settlement. The second section concerns a married couple (Williams and James Le Gros) who visit an elderly man to acquire sandstone for a house they plan to build. The last part follows the relationship between Jamie, a Native ranch hand (Lily Gladstone), and a young lawyer (Stewart) from a faraway town who is teaching an adult education class on school law. But nothing really happens happens, in a movie-made way. Even when Dern’s character finds herself sent in to diffuse a hostage situation, it’s not meant to be dramatic.
The brief synopses do little to convey what these stories may be about, or the authenticity and grace with which they are presented. Working with cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, who also shot Reichardt’s previous Night Moves and Meek’s Cutoff, the film has the genuineness of a documentary combined with the exquisite but never overly self-conscious imagery of an art film. There is nothing flashy here; Reichardt is concerned with real life, and though the three actresses in the film are veritable movie stars, they fit naturally into their roles as working-class Montana professionals.
Stewart, in particular, has never been more credibly gloomy as an overtired young lawyer, who always looks cold and has dark circles around her eyes. Her story, but specifically her tentative connection with the small-town female ranch hand, is the most emotionally rich of the three narratives. Though still extremely subtle, the film conveys a sense of loss or missed opportunity in these two wandering people from different backgrounds and social classes who briefly connect. There is a slight sense of pathos in Jamie’s story. Maybe she yearns for a different life? Or maybe she’s just lonely.
Certain Women is never explicit, about anything, which is what will make it a rewarding experience for discerning viewers. The film may have something to say about how men don’t listen to women, or how people are divided by class difference, or how life is just pretty darn hard, no matter who you are. Whatever it is, Reichardt has crafted another deeply felt and beautifully ambiguous meditation on contemporary life in the far corners of the American heartland.
•• The Hollywood Reporter, Leslie Felperin: After her comparatively pacey last feature, the eco-themed thriller Night Moves, indie auteur Kelly Reichardt returns to a more typically low and slow register with the elegantly wrought Certain Women. Although her screenplay is adapted from short stories by Maile Meloy, and set in and around pokey-cozy Livingston, Montana, instead of the Pacific northwest stomping grounds she’s favored in the past, Reichardt successfully makes the material and setting her own. Her trademark attention to landscape, to the bonds between people and animals, and to how the human face can reveal so much when at rest are all present and correct.
Yet while there’s no doubt this is the work of a filmmaker entirely in command of her craft, there’s something a trifle academic and dry about the whole exercise, and slightly lacking in narrative cohesion given the nature of its origins. Unlike, say Robert Altman’s Short Cuts or other films adapted from collections, this feels like three discrete works laid alongside one another, like pictures in a gallery, not a triptych.
Still, Women features Reichardt’s starriest cast, with not just her muse Michelle Williams on board but also Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart, as well as outstanding discovery Lily Gladstone. Together, these women are certain to hold the attention of viewers at further festivals and in specialist distribution.
The opening tale trips lightly along on dainty feet. After an adulterous afternoon tryst with her married lover Ryan (James Le Gros), local Livingston lawyer Laura Wells (Dern) meets with her client, a carpenter named Fuller (Jared Harris). Fuller has hired Laura to help him get compensation for a workplace accident, a case he hasn’t any chance of winning. Laura has been trying to tell Fuller this for weeks, but he only seems to accept defeat when a male lawyer in a neighboring town assures him he’ll get no “tort time.” Even so, he still insists on trying one last desperate measure to prove he’s been hard done by, and Laura wearily comes to his rescue.
In the second, spikier chapter, Ryan turns out to be married to Gina (Williams), a hard, humorless woman with a smile like a drawer full of tiny knives, who has bought a plot of land in the area and plans to build a house there. Accompanied by their sulky teenage daughter (Sara Rodier), Gina and Ryan visit Albert (the great Rene Auberjonois), a fragile old man whose mind seems to be fading, in the hopes of talking him into selling them some native sandstone that’s been heaped in front of his house for years.
The best comes last with an exquisite tale of inchoate longing and miscommunication. An unnamed ranch hand (luminous newcomer Gladstone) spends her days caring for horses on a remote ranch, not another single human soul in sight. Even so, she has the horses for companionship, as well as a boisterous, scene-stealing Corgi cross. (As in other Reichardt films, the dogs have strong supporting roles here, and this one is also dedicated to the director’s longtime canine companion, the co-star of Wendy and Lucy.)
Seeing cars gathering late one night at the local school, the ranch hand investigates and finds it’s a class on education law being taught to the school teachers by recent law-school graduate Elizabeth (Stewart). She starts auditing Elizabeth’s classes each week, and they become friends of sorts, companionably sharing meals before Elizabeth makes the long drive back to Livingston. Barely able to articulate her feelings, the ranch hand seemingly develops a kind of girlish crush on the teacher, but her feelings can only find expression in longing looks and the closest she gets to Elizabeth physically is a shared ride on a horse.
If the characters here are often sparing with their words, or even withholding, the visuals speak volumes. Shot by Reichardt’s most steadfast collaborator, DoP Christopher Blauvelt on 16mm film, the graininess and deep focus of the cinematography suggest a living landscape that’s constantly in shimmer. The sounds we hear might be the babbling of a nearby river, the murmur of Jeff Grace's understated soundtrack, or the rustling of some invisible book's pages. Meanwhile, characters are often seen through glass or reflected in mirrors, underscoring the lack of direct connection, the oblique angles from which they observe each other. It’s no accident that the rawest emotional moment in the film is when the ranch hand and Elizabeth look directly into each other’s eyes in a car park, finally truly seeing each other for the first time.
•• The Film Stage, Jordan Raup: Rating B+
The cinema of Kelly Reichardt lives in quiet, tender observations with deeply rooted characters and location. Even when adding a thriller element as with her last feature, the overlooked Night Moves, her style is never compromised. Her latest feature, Certain Women, is a loosely connected three-part drama adapted from the short stories of Maile Meloy. It’s perhaps the purest distillation of her sensibilities yet as she patiently explores the longing for human connection in world where men too often get prioritized.
Primarily set in Livingston, Montana, the first story concerns a lawyer (Laura Dern) whose current client (Jared Harris) has been displaced after a workplace accident. By settling for a small sum upfront that barely paid for any related expenses, further litigation has proved impossible. She notes that, if she was a man, her client might have listened to her for the last eight months delivering this exact news. Suffering from an emotional breakdown after fully realizing his situation while driving home, it pushes her client to a breaking point. Reichardt, as she does in the next two stories, ends this passage with a piercing emotion, the foundation of which had been quietly percolating, perhaps initially unbeknownst moment-to-moment to even the most observant viewer.
The subsequent story, and the most oblique of the bunch, follows Gina (Michelle Williams) and her husband, Ryan (James Le Gros), as they attempt to purchase a historic sandstone once used as part of their town’s first school in preparation for building a new getaway home. In negotiating with elderly family friend Albert (Rene Auberjonois), in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment a single response from her husband causes her to rightfully get upset. Reichardt again ends on a note of subtly conveyed guilt.
The third and final story brings the most discernibly emotional arc as we follow horse rancher Jamie (Lily Gladstone, delivering her break-out performance) who spends each day in the same routine, repeatedly shown by Reichardt, further placing us in the pristine location. Searching for a human connection, she goes on a drive and comes across a school that holds a night class. Sitting in the back of the classroom, Jamie watches the instructor, Beth (Kristen Stewart), teach about school law, with the only interested parties there being teachers who want to upgrade their parking spaces or increase their salary.
The two then head to the local diner, a repeated activity in which they never truly make eye contact.”I don’t know anyone at all,” Jamie tells Beth, beginning a moving story of unrequited companionship. Stewart’s Beth, with a reserved, albeit comforting presence, is also looking for a friend as her eight-hour round trip to teach this class is a sort of penance as part of her new job at a law firm.
There are no grand revelations or heightened emotions to be found in this film. Rather, Reichardt is keenly aware of small interactions, whether it be a few words or a glance, that make the most memorable moments in one’s life. In one particularly effective sequence, Gina and Ryan discuss their tumultuous (at least in the world of Reichardt) negotiation in the car. Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, using 16mm film, frames the reflection of the window over Williams’ distressed face as the natural landscape, imbued with history, glides by, the two converging into one.
The small ways in which its stories connect can be taken as an prompt to being more observant to the world. If one stops to consider a stranger passing by, their life could certainly be worthy of one of these tales. By keeping the scale of each story small and free of any straightforward message, Certain Women will make one reconsider those seemingly slight encounters we have every day with those around us, and the effect they may have on others. With Reichardt fully in control of the stories she’s telling, each of these characters are longing for such a seemingly small, but emotionally revelatory experience.
•• Roger Ebert, Brian Tallerico: Kelly Reichardt’s “River of Grass” premiered at the Sundance International Film Festival over twenty years ago, and has been restored for inclusion in the “Collection” Program of this year’s fest before an imminent theatrical re-release. Over the two decades since, Reichardt has become one of the most important voices in American cinema, delivering great film after great film, including “Old Joy,” “Wendy and Lucy,” “Meek’s Cutoff” and “Night Moves.” And so now she returns to Sundance something of a conquering hero, a chronicler of the American landscape so essential to the international film world that the premiere of her latest film was also the first time she was in the “big house” in Park City, the 1,270-seat Eccles Theatre. Obtaining the primetime slot was probably easier with the biggest “name” cast that Reichardt has ever employed. It’s a dream team of actresses, fronted by Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart. Yet any concern that “Certain Women” is in any way Reichardt “selling out” to the mainstream to get more eyes on her films should be dismissed. “Certain Women” is arguably Reichardt’s most deliberate, slow-paced, subtle film to date, proof that this incredibly talented filmmaker’s distinct voice is still essential.
Easily loglined as “A Montana “Short Cuts”,” “Certain Women” adapts three short stories by American fiction writer Maile Meloy. They all take place in a small Montana town, and all feel part of Reichardt’s vision of a world that doesn’t stop moving for human need. Reichardt has always displayed a stunning gift for capturing nature, but her use of the constant flow of existence around her characters in “Certain Women” is one of its most captivating aspects. The film opens with a train moving through this small town (and you can hear its horn in the background near-constantly for the first segment), and Reichardt regular uses similar devices of elements that go past our characters from a river in the middle of nowhere to so many shots of cars in the distance traveling along a freeway. It’s as if she’s making us aware of the relative smallness of her stories—gentle, nuanced studies of people that the rest of the world, human and natural, just speeds by.
The first story of “Certain Women” stars Laura Dern as a lawyer who is having an affair with a married man (James Le Gros) and returns one day to her office to meet a client (Jared Harris) who is at the end of his rope. The man was disabled in a workplace accident but then accepted an insurance payment, nullifying his ability to sue his company. He can’t work at all because he has double vision from the accident, but he refuses to take his attorney’s sad advice to give it up. They travel to another personal injury attorney who tells him the same thing Dern’s character has for months—but he needed to hear it from a man—and then essentially breaks down.
After the first narrative seems to have reached its conclusion, we move across town to a married couple (Michelle Williams and Le Gros) who are breaking ground on a new home, visiting an old friend (Rene Auberjonois) in the hope that he’ll give them sandstone that has been sitting in his front yard for years. This arguably transitional center story gives way to the film’s most triumphant segment, the story of a ranch hand (breakthrough Lily Gladstone) who happens upon a class in School Law being taught by an out-of-towner (Kristen Stewart). The lonely woman doesn’t care about the class; she’s more interested in the teacher. They go out to eat after every class, and Reichardt lyrically captures the arc of a daily life of routine as the woman goes about the business of working a farm, waiting for the next time she can see the new person in her life.
“Certain Women” has no direct, this-is-what-this-is-about moments. It will be frustratingly opaque for some viewers who need more periods than ellipses in their work. And yet themes feel like they emerge organically from the characters and setting. There’s a sense of inevitability to these stories, from the man who fought against the fact that he never had a way out of his legal predicament to the sandstone that once held so much promise for another man but now lays in a pile to the poignant ending of the tale of a woman whose days are largely indistinguishable from each other until she meets someone new. There are also subtle details to be appreciated when it comes to gender roles. Dern’s character is an attorney whose client wants to use her more than listen to her; Williams’ is a business owner who doesn’t get the same respect as her husband; Stewart’s attorney/teacher works multiple jobs and drives hours to get to an unrewarding one.
What a lot of people miss about Reichardt as they’re praising her lyrical sense of the space of this world is her ability with actors. None of the performers in “Certain Women” are given much time and yet they all make an impact. Jared Harris hasn’t been this good in years, but the film belongs to the women—Dern, Stewart, and Gladstone, in particular. Williams isn’t bad—she never is—but her narrative feels the least satisfying, the arguable weakness of the film, although in some ways it ties together the business aspects of the first story with the landscape of the last one. Stewart and Gladstone give the most affecting performances, turns driven more by internal monologue than proclamations.
Watching “Certain Women” in conjunction with “River of Grass” makes for an inevitable comparison—how has this filmmaker changed or progressed from her first Sundance film to her last? “River of Grass,” the story of a bored young woman in the Florida Everglades named Cozy (Lisa Bowman) who meets a local schmuck named Lee (Larry Fessenden), is a much broader exercise, even bringing mind to “Raising Arizona” at times in the wacky stupidity of its central characters (“I didn’t know much about hold-ups and Lee didn’t want me getting in the way of his crime spree"). It’s almost like “Bonnie Clyde rewritten by Carl Hiaasen.” Like a lot of mid-‘90s cinema, it thinks there’s more value in malaise than there is but I like Fessenden’s loose work and Reichardt’s sense of humor. And it’s not much of a spoiler to say that “River of Grass” ends with an extended shot of a freeway, cars blending together and heading off over the horizon. Twenty years later, “Certain Women” offers a deeper, more ambitious examination of that flow of humanity, but it’s been there since the very beginning.
•• Indiewire, Noel Murray: Rating A-
At one point during the development of Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women,” the film was called “Livingston,” a title that refers to the small Montana town where most of the movie takes place. The name-change is provocative, suggesting that Reichardt intends to say something very specific about gender. And there are definitely scenes in “Certain Women” to support that. The movie’s divided into three sections — each anchored by a female protagonist, and each based on a short story by Guggenheim fellow Maile Meloy — and in each of the first two, there’s a moment where the main character talks to a man who barely seems to register anything she says. In the Montana of this movie, women are independent and headstrong, yet still undervalued.
But it’d be reductive and inadequate to define “Certain Women” strictly in terms of what it might be “saying.” The film’s three parts have the qualities of great literary fiction and of refined art-cinema. Reichardt is primarily concerned with capturing Meloy’s highly specific characters, and the landscape they populate. There’s a lot to be picked up here — about the loneliness of people separated by the American Northwest’s vastness, and about being a good steward of both a land and its history. Then again, a person could get a lot out of staring at an artfully composed photograph of Montana, too. For Reichardt, the aesthetics matter as much as the theme.
“Certain Women” is a deliberately slow-paced film, though not undramatic. The first segment stars Laura Dern as a small-claims attorney who’s become exasperated by her most difficult client: a skilled handyman (played by Jared Harris) who refuses to understand that while a former employer is responsible for his current disability, they’re legally absolved of paying him any more workman’s compensation. The third segment stars Lily Gladstone as a horse-rancher whose attraction to a stressed-out recent law-school grad (Kristen Stewart) begins to cross the line from sweet to stalker-ish. Both of these stories feels like they could evolve at any time to something violent or tragic — and both actually do build to a confrontation of sorts, although Meloy and Reichardt avoid cheap payoffs.
The most emotionally complex of the three sections though stars Michelle Williams as Gina, the mother of a snippy teenage daughter and the wife of an unfaithful man (James Le Gros), who’s trying to alleviate his guilt somewhat by building her a house out in the country. Gina has decided that she wants him to use as much natural and local material as possible, so she and her husband ask a feeble elderly friend named Albert (Rene Auberjonois) if they can have the pile of sandstone that’s been sitting out in front of his house for years. He responds by launching into a monologue about the origin of the stone, turning what seems like a simple request into a complicated statement on what it means to be a Montanan — and what it might mean to his identity to give these rocks away.
That conversation between Gina and Albert is the most blatant example in “Certain Women” of a man not really paying attention to a woman. On the other hand, it’s part of the overall style of this film for people to speak past each other — and usually after uncommonly long pauses. Although the dialogue and delivery are fairly realistic, the beats that Reichardt encourages between lines makes the characters’ interactions feel less natural. Like the director’s earlier films — “River of Grass,” “Old Joy,” “Wendy and Lucy,” “Meek’s Cutoff,” and “Night Moves” — “Certain Women” is so hushed and halting that it’s bound to turn off some viewers.
The structure may assuage some of the Reichardt-averse. Because no one segment runs much longer than 30 minutes, the film changes focus often enough to avoid overkill. And while the way each part trails off may initially seem unsatisfying, Reichardt helps out by giving each a coda in the movie’s last 10 minutes — which, in the case of the Dern/Harris story, is essential to clarifying what it’s all about. Though “Certain Women” is difficult, it’s hardly obtuse.
And for those willing to trust that Reichardt is in full command of this material, “Certain Women” is utterly enthralling. The glacial storytelling has a mesmerizing effect, and also gives audiences time to drink in the big skies — against which the humans look so insignificant — and to appreciate the careful way that Reichardt establishes what Meloy’s heroines are up against. The cold, the distance, the arduous labor, the subtle class divisions, and the unwelcoming men… all of these help define why these certain women are the way they are.
•• Flavorwire, Jason Bailey: A few years back, writer Dan Kois used Kelly Reichardt’s then-recent neo-Western Meek’s Cutoff as the centerpiece of a New York Times discussion of the pros and cons of eating one’s “cultural vegetables”; it was the prime example of a “slow-moving, meditative drama” during which the author “had trouble staying planted in my seat with my attention focused on the screen.” Reichardt’s latest film, Certain Women (which premiered Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival), won’t do much to change the minds of Mr. Kois and his fidgety brethren. It’s a movie so patiently paced, even a high-octane shotgun-and-hostage situation is treated quietly and deliberately. There are no verbose emotional arias or chest-beating screaming matches. It’s a collection of the tiniest moments, which accumulate into a kind of devastation.
The film’s three segments are, at first glance, only superficially connected, by minor characters or momentary locations. But Reichardt was drawn to what they had in common thematically: “I just thought there were these really subtle threads of struggle.” She first tells the story of a small-town lawyer and her difficulties with a stubborn client; he has to go to a (male) lawyer for a second opinion, and she shrugs, “Being a man, people would listen; it would be so restful.” The second story finds a family grinding on each other’s nerves at the end of a weekend camping trip. In the third, a bored rancher wanders into the classroom of a pretty young lawyer, and finds herself attracted to her – or maybe she just welcomes a ripple to break the monotony.
As a form of fiction, short stories are built less for sprawling narratives than brief snapshots – drilling down on moments, rather than collecting them. The stories Reichardt tells here fit snugly into that mold, so she lets us fill in the backstories and puzzle out the dynamics. What’s important isn’t what’s led to the fissures between, say, the second story’s husband and wife, but the loaded interactions, tiny yet intense and exhausting, that now define their relationship. Even the heartbreak of the final story doesn’t manifest itself in a sobbing breakdown or a wet-eyed confession; Reichardt merely holds on the face of her rancher, as she watches this woman drive away from one of their post-class diner chats, and knows that face tells the whole story.
Certain Women finds Reichardt working with her most impressive cast to date; in addition to regular collaborator Michelle Williams (who fronted Meek’s Cutoff and Wendy and Lucy), her ensemble includes Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, and Jared Harris. Pal James Le Gros, who also acted in her last film, Night Moves, explained how she attracts such performers: “To a working actor, you get hired out and do these jobs, and it’s mostly like bookcases and bathrooms and you try to make the best of it. And every now and again you get the ceiling of a church, and you get to do something outside of your expectations, and that’s the best thing.”
The big new draw is Stewart, who immediately proclaimed, “I’m a Reichardt fan” and praised the filmmaker’s refusal to “package up and deliver you this notion."
There’s a moment, late in the movie, when one character pleads for another to send letters, over her objection that there’s nothing to say. It doesn’t matter, he tells her. “It doesn’t have to be a tome,” he insists. For much of Certain Women, this seems to be Reichardt’s operating principle. It’s only when it’s all over that you realize what the filmmaker was really up to –- that emotionally and empathetically, it’s thousands of pages thick.
•• ConsequenceOfSound, Michael Roffman: Kelly Reichardt captures Maile Meloy's short stories with patience and tranquility
“Sir, what if a writer is attempting to create a story where nothing much happens, where people don’t change, they don’t have any epiphanies. They struggle and are frustrated and nothing is resolved. More a reflection of the real world.” So goes the famous scene in Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, to which Brian Cox’s Robert McKee verbally shakes him down, offering example after example of major life events that happen every day, before concluding that, “If you can’t find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don’t know crap about life!” Here’s the thing: Kaufman isn’t exactly wrong. On any given day, most people would be hard-pressed to find anything significant to share, let alone turn into a story. But, here’s the other thing: It’s there. It’s the little things. They’re in the pregnant pauses. The silent walks to and from work. Those brief seconds of terror when reality truly bites. That’s where a patient filmmaker like Kelly Reichardt shines, and her latest film, Certain Women, is further evidence.
Based on Maile Meloy’s Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It: Stories, the film oscillates between the lives of four women living in or around the small town of Livingston, Wyoming. Laura Dern plays a struggling lawyer named Laura Wells, whose ailing client (Jared Hess) causes all sorts of problems for her, including a minor hostage situation. Michelle Williams jogs around as Gina Lewis, a determined mother and wife looking to build an authentic home for her family. While Kristen Stewart commutes between Livingston and Belfry as up-and-coming lawyer Beth Travis, whose evening lessons in school law draw interest from a nearby rancher named Jamie (Lily Gladstone). For close to two hours, Reichardt rolls the film and observes each character, following their everyday actions, whether it’s grabbing Chinese food at a local mall or smoking in silence on a quiet trail or heating up a frozen hamburger at a roadside pit stop. It’s a little meandering, even trying at times, but that’s the gist.
These are quiet and moody stories, which means the dialogue’s spare and the scenery is vivid. Out of the four principals, Dern’s story is by far the liveliest, from an early morning affair to a late-night hostage negotiation, and she lights up the screen. Coming off last year’s Oscar nomination for her exceptional performance in Wild, the veteran star continues to impress with ease, turning pained expressions and tired exasperations into 30 pages of character design. There’s a weight to her role that trumps the rest of the cast, namely because she’s the most interesting of the four. In fact, when she resurfaces later in the film, it’s something of a revelation — she’s that good. Similarly, Stewart keeps the momentum going following last year’s head-turning work in Clouds of Sils Maria as she delivers another nuanced performance as Travis. Her few reactions say so much — something as small as the way she hunches over a grilled cheese sandwich even — and further elaborate her inherent struggles. Then there’s Gladstone, who’s straddled with a hefty chunk of the film’s runtime and yet carries out the lonely role with aplomb.
Sadly, it’s Williams who doesn’t get enough to chew on. Her story as Lewis is by far the strangest, though: She’s living outdoors in a tent while she works with her husband (an admirable James LeGros) on securing a pile of historic sandstone from an old hermit (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s René Auberjonois). The whole premise is an out-there parallel for her broken family — and one that tows the line between surreal and melancholy with dizzying effect — but it’s hardly a match for Wells’ dilemmas or the curious bond between Travis and Jamie. That’s not to say those are without its own problems, either. Whereas we could have used a little more time with Wells, Reichardt challenges her audience by spending way too much time with Jamie, following the young woman around as she tends to her farm all alone. To her credit, she captures both the beauty and mundanity of farm life, which explains Jamie’s introverted charms, but the story plods along at the drowsy speed of her horse. Needless to say, Reichardt could have trimmed a few shots in the editing room, one reason why another set of eyes is key.
Still, when a film looks this gorgeous, it’s understandable why Reichardt left so much in. Certain Women marks her third collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, following 2010’s Meek’s Cutoff and 2013’s Night Moves, and it’s an optimal marriage. So much of the film’s rugged naturalism stems from his ability to suck all the natural light into each shot, specifically the nighttime shooting, when the foreground’s glazed in golds and reds and whites. There’s also a comfortability to his work that affords Reichardt the extra two or three seconds per shot, which in turn helps her construct a larger world — and boy does Reichardt do just that with Certain Women. Meloy’s tranquil collection of American snapshots comes to life with gripping realism and brutal emotionalism. It’s an ode to this country’s oft-forgotten middle, where the struggle is, indeed, very real. As such, Certain Women is not always thrilling, but it’s certainly faithful.
•• Letterboxd, Taylor Armosino: Rating 4/5
I'm a bit surprised I ended up liking this as much as I did given its clear references to Kieslowski's The Three Colors Trilogy, of which I am not much of a fan. But this is a mesmerizing film. It's imperfect, not only in structure but also in the execution of Michelle Williams' third of the movie, but its highs are incredibly high. Or I should say, its lows are astonishingly low. Reichardt masterfully strikes extremely raw, resonant and devastating emotions of despair and longing in her characters (those of Lily Gladstone and Jared Harris, in particular) not only through her dialogue but also through her camera. Her slow burn style and reliance on using vast landscapes just wears you down and she knows exactly when to finish you off. This absolutely wrecked me, and I imagine I'll have longer thoughts on it at a later date.
•• Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan: Kelly Reichardt and James Schamus are stalwarts of the independent world, and both debuted excellent films Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival. And though Schamus is, in his own words, "at the tender age of 57 a first-time director" and Reichardt is a veteran who has been behind the camera for more than 20 years, they have both succeeded at the same daunting task: making first-rate cinema out of outstanding literary work.
Reichardt's "Certain Women" stars the powerhouse trio of Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Michelle Williams, a virtuosic Rene Auberjonois and a radiant Lily Gladstone. It's turned a trio of astute and emotionally powerful short stories by Maile Meloy into what the director has called "a drama about small life stories," finely modulated and taking place in Montana.
In talking to both Schamus and Reichardt about the challenges, difficulties and satisfactions of adaptation, it was striking that their experiences were both similar and disparate, that the way they approached material reflected, as might be expected, their personal attitudes and philosophies about the filmmaking process.
Both writer-directors, for example, to a certain extent encountered the work they adapted by chance. "To say I've been blessed to come across Philip Roth's novel as a mass-market paperback in an airport would be an understatement," Schamus said, whereas Reichardt discovered Meloy's excellent short-story collections "Half in Love" and "Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It" at a point "when I was feeling pretty lost and sort of searching."
Reichardt had made several films with the writer Jonathan Raymond, but when he became unavailable for a new project the quest that led to Meloy began. "Coming across her was lucky happenstance, but I liked her writing so much, I just knew as soon as I read it. She is such a vivid writer, I immediately felt the landscape and people who were really tied into it, a lot happening that is not in the dialogue."
Meloy chose not to be involved with the screenplay but, Reichardt said, "She told me, 'You go ahead,' she gave me the space to do that, which is a brave thing for someone to do."
Working by herself was for the director "a much lonelier experience. Because the film is a lot about loneliness and alienation, it was a very weird ride, you end up living what you made." So it was a key moment when, waiting for her luggage at the Salt Lake City airport on Friday night, Reichardt got a text from Meloy, who had just seen the film. "She said, 'It's beautiful.' I was so happy to get that text."
Reichardt ended up creating a narrative link among the three stories, and in the third section, which features Stewart, changing the sex of one of the key characters from a young man who'd had polio to a young Native American woman played by Gladstone. "It's really a process of a lot of trial and error," she explained. "It evolves into something that is totally its own thing."
•• IonCinema, Nicholas Bell: Rating 4,5/5
All I Desire: Reichardt’s Exceptional Triptych of Tenacious Women
Though she’s already touted as one of the most talented American contemporary directors, Kelly Reichardt accomplishes an unassuming masterpiece with her latest feature, Certain Women. Based on short stories by Maile Meloy, Reichardt adopts a conversational tone in this trio of narratives focused on three women living within the same vicinity in Montana. Commanding an impressive cast, Reichardt’s lost none of her touch for skillful portrayals of subtle emotion, painting complex characters with rich, visual detail. Reuniting with DP Christopher Blauvelt (Night Moves), Reichardt constructs an elliptical narrative concerned with three distinct women attempting to pursue desired objectives. Observant, heartfelt, and incredibly eloquent, Reichardt’s latest unfolds with poetic finesse, building to a powerful crescendo of sublimated emotion.
A variety of intersections transpire across a vaguely defined radius in Montana, some with more conflict and consequence than others. Laura (Laura Dern), a distracted lawyer, pays more attention to the married man (James Le Gros) she meets with secretly on her lunch hours than her troubled client (Jared Harris). When a hostage situation suddenly arises involving her client, we learn Laura played a detrimental hand in his current state of desperation. Next, a married couple (Michelle Williams, James Le Gros) is working through troubles specific to their relationship, building a new home together, the experience made awkward when they attempt to pressure an elderly old man to sell a stockpile of sandstone. And lastly, a lonely ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) develops a fascination with a young lawyer (Kristen Stewart) who has the misfortune of being tasked with teaching a class two times a week four hours from her home.
The first two narratives feature a prominent woman aggressively pursuing their personal goals, despite ill-fated consequences for those around them, particularly characters entering their personal orbit who do not fit neatly into their predetermined universe. Dern’s distracted lawyer ends up being a detriment to her troubled client thanks to her illicit affair with James Le Gros, while Michelle Williams wages an uncomfortable battle of wills with a doddering old man (a rare appearance from Rene Auberjonois) for the sake of some historically authentic hand hewn stones. It’s more difficult to feel empathy for either of them (especially an icy Williams) initially, presented as detrimentally self-absorbed. But Blauvelt’s cinematography drinks these women in with startling grace, starting with its opening segment where Dern and Le Gros are featured in various stages of undress in opposing rooms during an afternoon, immediately signifying the same sort of illicit lunchtime affair which opened Psycho (1960).
Reichardt switches this up for the third and most emotionally gratifying segment, aided significantly by a powerfully effective performance from Lily Gladstone, whose eyes are filled with an unspeakable, palpable longing for the mussed up lawyer-to-be played by an equally terrific Kristen Stewart.
There’s a sense of correction evident in each segment, those odd-man-(or woman)-out characters returned to the safety of their own environments. Reichardt beautifully depicts this in several ways, most magnificently in a short monologue from Le Gros, directing his daughter to be kind to her mother as he reverses his vehicle down a driveway. Having ended his adulterous affair, it’s as if he’s physically returning to his appropriate location. Likewise, the mournful parting shots of Gladstone as she drives back to her farm after being unceremoniously rebuffed by the woman she desires—both Le Gros and Gladstone are characters entranced by a woman lawyer, forced for various reasons to return to the place they came from. In each exchange, or even lack of exchange, one person is left significantly, irreparably altered, but at the same time, allowing for another person to be more complete.
Certain Women feels comparable to Rebecca Miller’s celebrated 2002 title Personal Velocity, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and also featured three distinct women taking command of their own destinies. In many ways, Reichardt’s more elusively designed film manages to be much more provocative thanks to her subtlety. Though the three main women don’t directly intersect, this is a different take on interconnected characters, slyly proposing each woman’s pursuit of happiness directly affects, for good or bad, the trajectory of those around them.
•• Screencrush, Erin Whitney: Certain Women, the latest from Kelly Reichardt (based on the short stories of Maile Meloy), is made up of three loosely interwoven vignettes about women living in Montana. There’s a lawyer, a wife and a farmer whose lives are each interrupted by something unexpected.
In the first story, Laura Dern is Laura Wells, a lawyer having an affair with a married man, Ryan Lewis (James Le Gros). One of Laura’s clients is Fuller (Jared Harris), a stubborn construction worker who sustained a bad head injury that left his vision impaired. Laura has repeatedly told Fuller his lawsuit against his employer is impossible to win, but he only comes to believe it when given the second opinion of a male lawyer. This is nothing new for Laura though, a woman used to not being heard by men. At this point it seems like Reichardt’s film will tackle stories of strong women trampled over and dismissed for their gender. But that prospect soon fades as Certain Women whisks off down abstruse, unfulfilled paths. Laura’s story turns into an uneventful hostage situation, then the film falls off course in the middle section about the sale of rock debris.
The second vignette introduces Michelle Williams’ Gina Lewis who’s camping with her unfaithful husband Ryan and their apathetic teenage daughter. Ryan describes his wife as the head of the family, a woman who seems more concerned with meeting her goals than offering compassion. But Certain Woman quickly loses focus as we follow Gina trying to convince an elderly man, Albert (Rene Auberjonois), to sell the local sandstone on his property. Despite the sentimental value it holds for Albert, Gina is resolute on buying it for Ryan to build the family’s house with. As much as one could try to extrapolate meaning from this story, Reichardt gives us so little with these characters that whatever significance Gina’s story holds is anyone’s best guess.
Much of Certain Women is a gorgeous and serene experience to take in. Shot on 16mm, Reichardt’s unrushed eye and Christopher Blauvelt’s (Night Moves, Meek’s Cutoff) naturalistic cinematography capture characters in peaceful, open landscapes like a series of paintings. Like Meek’s Cutoff, Wendy and Lucy and Reichardt’s other work, this film indulges in long pauses, scarce dialogue and repeated looks at daily chores and routines. However, the filmmaker’s contemplative observance of ordinary American lives hard at work is a style better suited for those films. It gave her past work a transcendent and meditative quality, but here that gets lost in aimless wandering and only adds to the disconnect between the three stories. The first two feel like the extended intros of what could’ve been larger, more compelling narratives. Though it’s in the third segment that the film finally shines and reaches its potential.
In it, Lily Gladstone is Jamie, a reticent rancher who cares for the horses on her Montana farm. Jamie attends a nearby adult school course one night where Kristen Stewart’s Beth teaches school law. A lawyer, Beth took the job for extra money despite having to drive eight hours round trip for it. It’s not clear what drew Jamie to the course, but Beth is what keeps her going and becomes the highlight of her week. They go to the diner each night after class where Jamie never eats and rarely talks, but quietly listens to Beth, a slight smile breaking across her face from time to time. Whether Jamie’s attraction to Beth is a crush, love or an intense fixation goes unexplained, but that’s precisely what makes this story so moving.
Reichardt fashions a beautiful, understated story of platonic connection out of this third chapter. It thrives on fantastic performances from Gladstone and Stewart and features Reichardt’s best directing in the film, most notably in long horse ride and car ride scenes suffused with more stifled emotions than words. Gladstone translates Jamie’s longing and anticipation through nuanced expressions, an aesthetic somewhat similar to the subtle romance of Todd Haynes’ Carol (it’s worth nothing Haynes is a producer on the film). Stewart’s awkward, withdrawn body language and hesitant responses make this one of her best performances yet, and she’s hardly on screen for 30 minutes. Once again, the actress has further proven how much her talent can enhance a film, and in this case, be the best part of one.
The extreme subtlety and understatements of Certain Women are what position it as either a difficult film that’s better understood over multiple viewings and analysis, or a series of short stories that fail to reach a destination. Some may say its strength lies in how it expresses the emotional power of silence and stillness. Others may dismiss it as boring and repetitive. Neither descriptions of Certain Woman are wholly wrong or right, though. This a film for a very particular audience, the type of work that requires patience for the quiet intersections and confrontations of simple lives. Reichardt achieves that well at moments, like in the entire third segment and in the return to Laura and Fuller’s story at the end. But everything else in between doesn’t offer enough to keep up intrigue. It could be the type of film that will improve after a second watch and marinate over time. But on first impression, only a third of Reichardt’s patient observations of women is worth the trip through Montana.
•• Paste Magazine, Tim Grierson: The silence speaks volumes in Kelly Reichardt’s films. In works like Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff, she has explored how people spend most of their day thinking, not talking, and that perhaps those quiet moments can be as revealing of character as anything that comes out of their mouths. (And, let’s not forget, even when we speak, we’re rarely saying precisely what we mean.)
Reichardt’s less-is-so-much-more approach is again on display beautifully in Certain Women, a series of three barely interconnected stories in which the empty spaces are pregnant with meaning and resonance. As usual with her films, Certain Women is so delicately but smartly constructed that ecstatic reviews may give people the wrong idea about its greatness. Certain Women is wonderful not because it’s some towering, imposing colossus, but because every small moment feels thoughtfully considered, fully lived-in. Certain Women seeps into the skin and expands in the mind. It leaves you shaken—even though nothing seemingly momentous has happened.
Based on short stories by Maile Meloy, the film is set in the author’s home state of Montana, and it’s in keeping with Reichardt’s subdued style that the three narratives aren’t joined together in any aggressively clever way. (Like the rest of the film, the interconnections are casual, effortless, presented without comment.)
In the first vignette, a vaguely unsatisfied lawyer named Laura (Laura Dern) must counsel an aggrieved client (Jared Harris) who’s unhappy with the amount of money he’s received in a lawsuit settlement. In the second, Gina (Michelle Williams), a focused wife and mother, is on the search for some limestone for the house she and her disengaged husband (James Le Gros) are building. And finally, a lonely cattle rancher named Jamie (Lily Gladstone) stumbles into a nighttime legal class taught by an out-of-towner (Kristen Stewart), striking up a friendship with the disenfranchised woman.
The film’s title perhaps suggests an overriding theme to Certain Women, but even then there’s a teasing ambiguity. “Certain women” could have the sting of a sexist pejorative, but it could also mean that we’re simply watching snapshots of the lives of random, ordinary women. Either way, Certain Women feels both specific and universal without any sort of pointed feminist statement going on.
In fact, it’s best to approach Certain Women not looking for thematic links or any sort of greater significance to the different stories. Those ambitions aren’t Reichardt’s—she’s a filmmaker who chronicles everyday activities with an exceptionally unfussy clarity. For instance, we watch Jamie tend to her horses or spy Gina during a silent, probably clandestine smoke break from her family, and the way in which Reichardt composes her shots and compiles them—she also serves as the film’s editor—creates an apt articulation of how the exact execution of normal activities illuminates aspects of our personality that may be unconscious to us.
Because Certain Women features no flashbacks or back stories, we learn about these characters only through the hints we get from their actions, which makes for arresting viewing as we try to sift through scant clues to begin to understand these people. Engaged in a pointless romantic fling with another man, Laura will end up being bonded to her potentially dangerous client during one frightening night, and much like in Reichardt’s underrated thriller Night Moves, the filmmaker manages to wring suspense and surprising character development from the simplest of setups.
But to be clear, Reichardt isn’t withholding information about these women just to be coy or purposely opaque. What’s remarkable about Certain Women is that the inquisitiveness we expend trying to deduce who these people are results in feeling more and more empathetic toward them. That’s in large part thanks to the performances, which transcend such simplistic descriptions as “naturalistic” to become weathered and offhand and marvelously simple. There are no big speeches in Certain Women, no actor-ly moments, and so the cast follows Reichardt’s example, letting each small experience speak for itself. One look from Rene Auberjonois as an older man with an excess of limestone ends up recalibrating how we feel about Gina, while a quiet shared horse ride between two other characters is so startlingly intimate that it informs every scene they have together afterward.
Above all, though, there is silence. Featuring a score from longtime Reichardt composer Jeff Grace, which only kicks in for a few (devastating) moments, Certain Women strips away all distractions so that we can better immerse ourselves into the powerful stillness of Montana’s wide-open spaces. It’s not just the beautiful exterior locations that give the film an elemental power: These people seem carved out of rock, sunk into the land, which makes their fates seem inconsequential, but also oddly meaningful. Not that there are clear resolutions to Certain Women’s storylines—at best, we get a greater sense of the characters’ inner lives and a hope that maybe they’ve found some modest kernel of wisdom to take with them.
But to be attuned to this movie’s rhythms, you really need to enter the film with an openness to receive it, letting the characters’ experiences up there on the screen wash over you. Reichardt treats cinema as a kind of meditation, which probably explains why her movies almost never feature traditional endings. Lives are a process, not necessarily a destination, and Reichardt honors her characters’ journey by letting it ebb and flow as it pleases. Like so many of her films, Certain Women is muted and restorative. It fills you up with so much life that its silence is almost overwhelming. Suddenly, the real world feels too loud.
•• Little White Lies, Ed Frankl: Kelly Reichardt confirms herself as one of America’s greatest living filmmakers with this stunning three-part character study.
It’s hard to imagine a more touching, enriching, human film at Sundance this year than the latest from Kelly Reichardt. A triptych of loosely intertwining small-town fables set in Montana and based on Maile Meloy’s short stories, Certain Women explores the lives of three women and the people that revolve around them, all weathered characters, battered by society and the Montana breeze. It reaffirms Reichardt’s position as a master American director who understands the human experience better than most.
Set around the epic scenery of Livingston, Montana, Certain Women is sectioned into three distinct parts – running about 30 minutes each – that weave back together in a final 10-minute section. The first, a lawyer named Laura (Laura Dern), finds herself confronted by the moral conundrums of the law when a vulnerable client Fuller (Jared Harris, the image and stature of his father) is refused a claim for a debilitating work injury. She explains the unhappy situation to Fuller, who then wants a second opinion – a man’s. When he gives the same advice, Fuller’s life starts to implode, forcing Laura to intervene.
The second and most oblique part revolves around Michelle Williams as a mother looking to build a new house. She asks René Auberjonois’ elderly Albert for his local sandstone. His reply is a long-winded discussion of the stone’s origin – an old school, a former time, we take it, when women did not make decisions.
In the third and most emotionally absorbing story, something deep in Native Indian rancher Jamie (Lily Gladstone) is awoken when she joins an education class led by Beth (Kristen Stewart). Jamie and Beth go for post-class dinners together, until Jamie comes to terms that her interaction with Beth is more than just a passing friendship. Stewart is mesmerising as a young woman ignorant to the effect she has on others.
These characters would typically be stuck in their daily grind, the “certain women” of the title suggesting that they are among the few taken out of the ordinary lives into re-evaluating, reasserting their position. This is a quietly feminist film, where men are the ones to take advantage; in the first two stories, Laura and Williams’ Gina both are notably ignored by men, and yet even with simmering resentment they are the ones to comfort them.
As is typical of her work – especially Wendy & Lucy and her recent eco-thriller Night Moves – Reichardt lets her camera settle on the faces of her protagonists, who here have time to think and breathe, with the writer/director rarely interrupting the slow-burning action with dialogue. It’s beautifully matched to Christopher Blauvelt’s 16mm photography, as well Kent Sparling’s absorbing sound design that relaxes on the sounds of rustling in the trees and the epic soundscapes of these cross-country roads. Reichardt often focuses on the waving Stars and Stripes or the distant whistle of the nearby railroad, as if to heighten this as a markedly American fable. Indeed, these are individualistic women, who try or have tried to mark out their own path in a world full of trials.
In these paths, even in small roles Dern, Harris, Gladstone and Stewart produce among their best performances to date. But in the film’s sense of empathy for every flawed character, this is Reichardt’s movie, a hypnotic tale of detachment, isolation but also of the nuggets of hope in every human interaction.
RT @PaulRidd Lily Gladstone & Kristen Stewart section of CERTAIN WOMEN particularly heart-breaking. Low key, Carver-esque love story.
RT @JMOursler CERTAIN WOMEN: The female experience told in fragments. Quiet. Beautiful. Profound. Best of Sundance so far.
RT @MattAndersonBBC Saw Kelly Reichardt's #CertainWomen. It was subtle, elusive. Still thinking about it - a good sign 4/5
RT @poppy_powers Loved how Kelly Reichardt's #CertainWomen is essentially 3 excellent shorts rolled into 1 film. Fantastic performances #sundancefilmfestival
RT @ctnash91 CERTAIN WOMEN: Reichardt's minimalist aesthetics continue to speak volumes here, anchored by brilliantly understated performances. #Sundance
RT @EricDSnider CERTAIN WOMEN: 3 contemplative vignettes in a small Montana town; 2 so-so, one pretty terrific. Lily Gladstone is standout. #Sundance
RT @RagingBells Reichardt's Certain Women a masterclass in subtlety---an eloquent triptych of unpredictable intersections. Beautifully crafted cinema.
BR> RT @TheGregoryE KReichardt's Certain Women is very much in her oeuvre. Not commercial. Beautifully shot. Strong perfs. Did not go over well
RT @jessewente With #CertainWomen, Kelly Reichardt reaffirms her place as one of the finest American auteurs working today.
RT @gayandbitter Certain Women: Slow but captivating. Peppered with subtle moments and characters that stay with you. Women making their own way. It's great.
RT @GeorgeWhipple3 Certain Women beautiful landscape......
RT @Brian_Tallerico CERTAIN WOMEN: Might be minor for Reichardt but performances resonate with truth, especially Stewart, Harris, Dern.
RT @Rachel_Simon CERTAIN WOMEN: wonderful performances from Dern, Stewart, Williams and Lily Gladstone, but too disconnected to really work. #Sundance
RT @LauraGoods Kelly Reichardt's CERTAIN WOMEN is the best thing I've seen at #Sundance2016 so far.
RT @PaulRidd Bowled over by CERTAIN WOMEN. So moving on love and sadness. Might be her best film.
RT @hayley_sass BUT I have to do some yelling about Kelly Reichardt's CERTAIN WOMEN because AAAAAAAHHHHHHH IT WAS SO GOOD I FEEL ANEW IN THE WORLD! I mean there was one scene ALONE where I started spontaneously crying and it went straight into my personal top film scenes I've experienced. (This scene involved Lily Gladstone and Kristen Stewart and GORGEOUS INFATUATION and I DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIED) Also I could very happily listen to Kristen fangirl intelligently about how much she loves Kelly's films FOREVER THANK YOU.
RT @Ed_Frankl CERTAIN WOMEN is the Pulp Fiction of humble small-town domestic drama. Beautiful, rich, open hearted #Sundance
RT @bwestcineaste CERTAIN WOMEN: Reichardt's framing is a marvel. Long takes & composition with such meaning. Wonderful performances. #Sundance
RT @AdamCook Still gathering my thoughts on CERTAIN WOMEN but it is extraordinarily beautiful.
RT @TimGrierson CERTAIN WOMEN: Enjoy the silence. Reichardt's quietest film since OLD JOY seeps into your skin, expands in the mind. Just lovely. #Sundance
RT @linoleumcast Among the many great aspects of #CertainWomen - Kristen Stewart does not take timid little actress nibbles in her diner scenes. #Sundance16
RT @AnnaJKlassen CERTAIN WOMEN is three stories loosely woven together in a fairly unexceptional and slow narrative. Good performances though. #Sundance
RT @alissamarie CERTAIN WOMEN: An heir to SHORT CUTS, a long three-part symphony of quiet desire. Most of the world lies in it. #Sundance
RT @Astrostic CERTAIN WOMEN may be nothing more or less than pure dignity and uppercase 'C' Cinema, and I will absolutely take it.
RT @HoffmanOnFilm Certain Women is perhaps Reichardt's most nuanced film yet. Newcomer Lily Gladstone steals the show. Laura Dern pretty cool. #Sundance
RT @jpraup Certain Women: a quietly observed, patient drama about the yearning for connection. Greatly rooted in location. Laura Dern & Michelle Williams do great work in Certain Women, but Kristen Stewart gets the most emotional arc, and pulls it off. #Sundance
RT @katerbland The very nature of CERTAIN WOMEN engenders discussion about how we feel about certain sections. I can easily rate mine. Maybe too easily.
RT @tarmosino need to ruminate on this one more, but my initial reaction to CERTAIN WOMEN is that it's kind of a masterpiece.
RT @TomiLaffly #CertainWomen lyrically admires quiet yet powerful female expressiveness & sense of negotiation via expansive landscapes/intimate settings.
RT @rilaws Not gonna say who I liked best in CERTAIN WOMEN bc I want to keep my @'s clear. You know who it is though
RT @aliciamalone Certain Women: I wish the film gave that great cast more to do. Very slow! Kristen Stewart was fab as always. But has a smaller role than you may expect.
RT @NoelMu #Sundance alumni really on their game this year. Utterly enthralled by Kelly Reichardt's CERTAIN WOMEN (and I'm not usually a fan).
RT @alisonwillmore CERTAIN WOMEN: Two of these three Montana-set stories were just too elliptical for me, but the third (w/, yes, KStew) was sublime. #sundance
RT @nigelmfs Certain Women is sure to stick with me. Beautiful, meditative film with deeply felt performances across the board.
RT @CinemaBite Out of all 3 Certain Women stories, I did enjoy the third. Best performances, but mostly because, been there
RT @Beccamford There are three stories in #CertainWomen. The third (w/ #kstew and Lily Gladstone) is by far the best.
RT @SeanMBurns CERTAIN WOMEN (2016, Riechardt, ***1/2) Sometimes it's the quietest moments that feel the loudest.
RT @jon_frosch Kristen Stewart, again, proves what an astonishing actress she can be in Reichardt's Certain Women but Lily Gladstone=revelation
RT @Mel452 #CertainWomen is beautifully made. Some of the stories drag a lil but the 3rd (Kristen's) is deeper w/ Kristen being hypnotizing. As someone said, you can watch her eat forever! 😍 The part is smaller then I thought, but quality over quantity is a def.