Certain Women- Flicks
I must be honest and say out loud that these are tough times. And I don’t think escapism is the answer. Well, make of that what you will, but in literature and film I look for artists who are committed to telling the truth about our experiences, in all their ambiguity. Movies that give us fantasies of triumph, justice, and perfect love are easy to find. There’s a place for them. But Kelly Reichardt, whose directorial credits include Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff, and Night Moves is interested in the flashes of humanity within the ordinary yet often difficult navigation of daily life. Her latest film is entitled Certain Women. Its theme is loneliness, the kind that might not even have a voice, but is there nevertheless, silently revealed through commonplace action and gesture.
Most of Reichardt’s films take place in the American northwest. Certain Women is adapted from short stories by the Montana writer Maile Muloy, and here the life in small towns, such as Livingston or Billings, is framed against the background of beautiful snow-covered mountains.
The first story concerns Laura, an attorney played by Laura Dern, plagued with a distraught client named Fuller, played by Jared Harris, who is angry that a legal technicality prevents him from suing his ex-employer for major physical injuries suffered on the job. Fuller won’t leave Laura alone, and she has to deal with his wild mood swings and erratic behavior at the same time that her married lover is breaking up with her. Things get much crazier than expected, and the exhausted, matter-of-fact way Laura deals with it is actually quite funny, while showing us how real bravery can display itself in the most unlikely people.
The second story is about Gina, played by Michelle Williams, one of the regulars in Reichardt’s films. With her distant, rather unhelpful husband, Gina is trying to get an elderly neighbor to let them take an unused pile of sandstone bricks off his property so they can use it to help make their country dream house. Her prickly relationship with her teenage daughter is so true to life—neither comes off as likable in their sparring, yet we understand. This story is the Reichardt style in essence—personal interactions with barely a wisp of a plot, but plenty of meaning if you look for it, for instance in Gina’s annoyance at the way her husband’s failure to listen burdens her with all the responsibilities.
The final story tells of Jamie, played by Lily Gladstone, whose job is to take care of a horse ranch by herself for the winter. A random search for some kind of company finds her stumbling into a night class on school law taught by an awkward instructor named Beth, played by Kristen Stewart. Beth has taken this work without realizing how long a drive it is from Livingston, where she lives. Jamie helps her break the monotony a little by taking her to the local diner, which becomes a ritual every time Beth visits. Falling into an instant crush on Beth, Jamie tries to court her, but she’s so shy she can’t find very much to say. The performances by Gladstone and Stewart are touching, and particularly remarkable are the sequences showing us Jamie’s daily routines at the horse ranch, their beauty but also their sameness, the lonely feeling when one day seems identical with another.
The stories have slight points of connection with one another, that have no clear meaning other than to highlight the random nature of life in a small western town. Everything in the film—the size of the rooms, the objects in them, the spare quality of the landscapes—seems real in a way you don’t usually see in a film. Certain Women has a tender regard for moments that are only known within the heart.