Showing Up

March 20th, 2023




The work of Kelly Reichardt is about nouns. People, places, and many things come into focus. With patience and time spent, her stories bloom with humanity. The characters are rich, the sets are authentically lived in, and the costumes equally establish a tone. Showing Up, her most recent work– another collaboration with Michelle Williams– is about a small Portland college town, where the art school has an eclectic group of students and teachers. As we follow the day to day lives, we see how the stress can build, and one’s view of the creative mind must always come with a slice of empathy.

The opening shot is a collection of watercolor paintings. The camera follows from one to the next and gives us time to study each painting. This is from the brilliant mind of sculptor Lizzy (Williams), incredibly talented in her craft, and with the look of an artist that has neglected her own needs for her passion. Co-written by Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond, there are a series of dramatic issues, most involving the various characters that fill up her time. We meet her neighbor, landlord, and fellow artist Jo (Hong Chau), whom she desperately needs to help fix her hot water. There is also Eric (Andre Benjamin) who helps put molds into the kiln and fellow art professor Ira (James Le Gros) who offers her words of advice. We spend most of the time with her artist parents Jean (Maryann Plunkett) and Bill (Judd Hirsch) and they might be the biggest characters of all. This is absolutely a community, with all the quirks, and personalities that come with it.

Interestingly, the narrative is in step with Lizzy’s life, focused on one project and then taken away by something else. Midway through we find her cat attacking a pigeon in her kitchen. Instead of caring for the bird, she lets it loose outside, hoping it will survive on its own. A few minutes later Jo arrives with the pigeon, saying it was hurt and wanting to care for it. The pigeon becomes Lizzy’s new responsibility. She takes it to a vet and reveals her guilt and inability to let go. The results are both hilarious and delightful, as the pigeon becomes the focus, revealing the mundane days, and personality traits of our main character. We see those same characteristics show in her care for her family, friends, and others. No matter how bogged down she becomes in her work, there is something about Lizzy, and this experience you can’t let go.

Comparing the past works of Reichardt to Showing Up is like apples and oranges. There are slight similarities but the subject matter and setting is completely different. First Cow was about a budding business friendship selling delicious cakes. Certain Women was about the various struggles or misogyny that is experienced in a woman’s daily life. There’s a little bit of both of those films, with the Lizzy character navigating her way in the industry, but also subtly highlighting the complicated friendship of Jo and Liz. All of those factors merge together well because Reichardt has a sure handed direction, while Williams and Chau are able to fully embody their characters. Outside of these three artists there would not be half as much to love.

Pacing wise, Showing Up is not the greatest, as those unaware of Reichardt’s style will eventually feel boredom, but the point is to live in the moment. Showing Up is not just a character study but a human study. It’s a focus on surrounding oneself with like minded people and others who all want to make an impact with their work. That’s not always going to be the case, but like an unformed lump of clay, there is always a chance to create something beautiful. Showing Up is gentle and kind hearted. I could have spent more time with these people but for now I was just glad I was able to show up.



Written by: Leo Brady

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