Certain Women November 2, 2017
1 Hr., 47 Mins.
attempt to save their crumbling marriage. The next is a lonely ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) whose melancholy existence is briefly salvaged by a short-lived friendship with a young teacher (Kristen Stewart).
Because the feature is so determined to truthfully capture unglamorous days in the lives of these average women, some could argue that it often makes for a better character study than it does a drama. And, in some ways, the sentiment is true: Reichardt’s style is loose, unafraid of silence. The dialogue feels improvisatory, and the performances are almost pointedly understated. Scenes are so contemplative, and so apparently directionless, that the overarching movie is almost without climax.
But Reichardt wants us to be a different kind of viewer while watching Certain Women. Over-explanation and melodramatic stories are so common in our cinematic dramas that it isn’t unusual to walk into a foray into the genre and expect everything to be easily understandable, superficially entertaining.
Certain Women subverts that expectation. It encourages us to try filling in the silences and the pregnant pauses with our own interpretations of these characters, our own understandings as to how they’re feeling. It encourages us to find the beauty in the everyday and try to imagine ourselves living the lives spotlighted. It isn't too hard a prospect to ponder, after all.
Because Reichardt aims for naturalistic drama that motivates us to find ordinary existences as compelling as staunchly cinematic ones, though, it’s inevitable that some of the stories told be less interesting than others. Though the plight of the struggling married couple has a clever connection to both Dern and Gladstone’s characters, we aren’t so intrigued by their story only because Reichardt doesn’t much care to show what’s made them so unhappy in the first place. The introductory Dern subplot has its moments — it especially affects when we witness the latter visiting her previously mentioned client in prison — but, like the Williams/DeGros telling, sometimes freezes us out. We empathize with these characters. But that empathizing isn’t always as restorative as it could be.
What makes Certain Women a must-watch, then, is its third story. Like the previous storylines, which dealt with professional disaffection and marital contentiousness, it is underlined in an everyday battle. But the one found within it is the most heartbreaking battle of all: unrequited love.
In scenes revolving around the relationship between Gladstone and Stewart, the movie becomes exactly what Reichardt intended it to be: this aching, visceral slice of life that breaks our hearts more than any Greer Garson weeper ever could.
In these moments, we notice the way Gladstone, friendless and lonesome, looks at Stewart. It’s as though she’s the greatest thing that could have ever happened in her life. But we can also sense, unlike Gladstone, that this love will never be returned, that this friendship could wordlessly, and quickly, end without Stewart even noticing the damage done. We’ve all experienced this type of unreciprocated affection, and every word unsaid pummels our emotions further.
The performances seasoning this storyline are so clear-eyed — Gladstone is especially a revelation — that they ultimately help make Certain Women’s nonchalance resonate even more. They make us realize that even the movie’s more tedious of moments are important, that the lives of these women are not always their own capsulated dramas. Maybe we just got introduced at inconvenient times.
Inconvertibly, Reichardt’s humble approach is the sort that will divide. Some will find her style lethargic, lacking in urgency. But if you notice Certain Women’s attention to detail, whether it be emotional or psychological, you’ll see an unprecedented masterwork of a character study. It’s the kind of film that never really leaves you. And the kind of film this increasingly effects-heavy industry needs. A
here isn’t anything special about the heroines of Kelly Reichardt’s intimate Certain Women (2016). Dwellers of a small Montana town, the lives of these women are mundane and recognizable — these are people you’d silently sit next to at a bus stop or in a bar.
One of them is a sad lawyer (Laura Dern) busy with a pestering client and a lunchtime affair. Another is a housewife (Michelle Williams) whose husband (James LeGros) is literally building a house from the ground up in a desperate