“Certain Women” is a soft portrait of the female experience
By Kaely Monahan
Crafted like a delicate watercolor, Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” is a subtle and beautiful tableau of the lives of three women. The three narratively are thinly interconnected with a gossamer touch that resembles something closer to poetry than strict storytelling.
The three women all live in or near Livingston, Montana. Each is independent, quietly powerful, and introspective. Laura Dern plays a middle-aged lawyer who confronts sexism and a client who becomes unhinged. Michelle Williams plays Gina Lewis, a wife, and mother with ambitions of building a house with natural materials. She too is confronted by sexism in the form of an elderly man who seems incapable of speaking to her—whether he is afraid of her or, more likely, doesn’t know what to do in the face of her alpha role in her marriage. She also faces a teenage daughter who despises her and a husband who is disloyal. (In fact, he is sleeping with Laura Dern’s character.)
Finally there is Lily Gladstone. A solitary woman who works on a horse ranch and apparently drives to the local high school and wanders into night classes. One such night she stumbles into Kristen Stewart’s history of education law. The pupils are all teachers who want only to know how to get lobby for higher pay or what recourse they have against students they don’t like. Gladstone’s character is actually curious about the subject and even more intrigued by Stewart’s character.
The true brilliance of this film is the groundedness of each of the characters. For most women, they will recognize the subtle sexist moments as true to life. None of the men or other women are trying to be misogynistic. Rather it’s moments like when Dern’s client refuses to accept the truth of his lawsuit until he’s heard it from a male lawyer. Dern’s character had told him the same thing for months. Or there’s the comment by the elderly man to Williams’ character’s husband – “Your wife works for you?” To which he replies, no he works for her.
At first glance “Certain Women” may seem dull and ultimately uneventful, but director Reichardt masterfully blends story drama and realism with the skill of an impressionist painter. “Certain Women” is soft, delicate, and engaging, like a Monet painting, and a must see for fall.
· Kaely Monahan is a journalist, graduate of City University London and the creator of Popcorn Fan Film Reviews.