In Reviews

October 21st, 2016




Behind every great movie is a great women. At the center of Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women is the heart and soul of women all over the world. There are male counterparts, but the main focal point are four semi-connected female characters, played by Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, and Lily Gladstone, capturing them in their vulnerable human states for at least one day. Taking place in a small town of Montana, Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff) writes and directs, adapted from three short stories by Malie Meloy, which portray a glimpse into the subtle difficulties that these women accrue on a daily basis. Certain Women is genuine, with precise honesty, in one of the best movies of 2016.

The first story involves a lawyer named Laura Wells (Dern), who is introduced to us lying in bed and baring her body, after engaging in her current affair with the married Ryan (James Le Gros). She goes back to work, where she deals with the needy case of a man named Fuller (Jared Harris proving his acting strengths). He is attempting to sue his former employer for firing him over his mental condition, even though he already accepted severance pay. What he doesn’t believe is the advice she’s providing and asks for a second opinion. In one of the more spot-on scenes of the film, Fuller proves his bias for his own sex when he immediately agrees with the secondary male point of view, which is exactly what Laura already told him. The portrayal of his sexism is not conjured up, but a fact of most women’s daily life. It’s only later when Fuller has lost his mind and holding the company janitor hostage with a gun, where the “trained” male policemen send Laura in with a bulletproof vest to talk him down. Proving that when you want something done, ask a woman.

In the second story we follow Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams), the wife of Ryan who we saw sleeping with Laura earlier. She is also the mother to daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier) who sees her rules as harsh with an iron fist. For the time being, they are camping out next to land where their new home will be built. We know this family has a rocky relationship because the tense silence amongst each other. They visit an elderly gentleman in town to buy stones from, where there is an excellent display of gender roles. Williams plays it as the calloused women, who learned to stick up for herself in a world that clearly rejected the prospects of her independence. Reichardt creates the scene like a boxing ring, where Williams sets the older gentleman up for a left-hook when he finds out it is she who owns the family construction company.

The third and final story involves, quite possibly, two of the best performances of the year from Kristen Stewart and newcomer Lily Gladstone. Their characters are fully developed and feel fantastically lived in. Gladstone is Jamie, someone that would be perceived as lonely, but keeps company with the horses and her adorable corgi on running alongside her on the farm. She is a creature of habit, early to rise and ready to work, until one day she stumbles into a class about school law being taught by Beth Travis (Stewart). Without many words said, the two find companionship over late breakfasts. Jamie has a glint in her eye of possible romance, while Beth welcomes a friend away from what can be observed as a hectic life. A sadness permeates between the two of them in a segment that is beautifully tragic. I wanted to hug both of them.

All the praise though, belongs to Reichardt. Much like Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy, or Andrew Haigh’s stellar Weekend and 45 Years, this is rooted in the human experience. We can relate to these women because we are them. It shines a spotlight on the oblivious sexism that some men have for their counterparts, empathy for well drawn characters with four strong performances, and a new found appreciation for a superb director. One thing is for certain, don’t miss these Certain Women.

3 ½ Stars

Written by: Leo Brady

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