MOVIE #1,221 • 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿 • 11.03.23 First things first: Kelly Reichardt is incapable of making a bad movie. I believe this with al...

Showing Up

MOVIE #1,221 • 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿 • 11.03.23

First things first: Kelly Reichardt is incapable of making a bad movie. I believe this with all my heart. She was one of the first auteurs who I did a DIRECTOR FOCUS on, and so this is my first D.F. addendum review. Slotting this rather low on the official rankings might seem like a slight, but every one of her pictures has registered either a 9 or a perfect 10 in my book. And this one is no different. Her movies are at once easily classifiable, in some regard, as “slow cinema” entries — and those elements are present here as well (watch Michelle Williams work on a sculpture for almost four minutes of wordless, music-free screen-time below) — but that has always struck me as a reductive interpretation. They have such humanity and character depth, and are often as quietly funny as they are plainly sad. She is an American treasure.

If Showing Up struggles in any regard, it might be because it’s her most “inside baseball” movie to date, in this case: baseball being the regional artist's experience, the self-important but ultimately small-time existence of devoting one’s life to creating, mostly in the realm of, and under the umbrella of the academic world. Having spent time pursuing a BFA myself, I could relate to much of this, but I could see the subject matter (on a surface level) working as a hindrance to the uninitiated. Although, these deeply flawed characters are too good to ignore, occupations aside. Williams, working with Reichardt for a fourth time, shines in the lead as Lizzy and the drama unfolds on two sides around her: the relationship with her family (also artists!) and the relationship with her landlord (Hong Chau), who also happens to be her main artistic rival. That compulsion to make art — whether because it's a compulsion you can't ignore, or simply a life you were born into — is really the essential thread.

The bulk of the film is devoted to the latter conflict, but there’s some delicate and lovely stuff with her mom (Maryann Plunkett), dad (Judd Hirsch) and reclusive/delusional brother (John Magaro, star of the wonderful First Cow). Chau, as Jo, functions like a kind of cosmic mirror for Lizzy, a window into a better life: she's slightly more successful (both monetarily and critically) and seems to always find herself on the winning side of a parade of passive aggressive arguments and strokes of dumb luck alike (when Lizzy’s cat maims pigeon, it’s Jo who decides to rescue it: imbuing Lizzy to take care of it during her day off because she simply has more important things to do). This injured pigeon becomes the purest lark and/or metaphor: discarded by the constantly frazzled Lizzy, saved on a whim by the carefree Jo, and then functioning as a go-between in their relationship — which is otherwise entirely made up of a dispute about getting Lizzy’s water heater fixed so she can take a shower — before being ceremoniously released at Lizzy's gallery opening show.

These people exist in the wild and so are beyond self-parody. Reichardt never treats them as jokes even if the audience will be rolling their eyes at every turn. It’s the kind of tight-rope walk that she has mastered at this point. Her movies are so good that I almost always find myself digging for flaws that never amount to more than the most minor of nitpicks. I always walk away from her characters pondering what’s next, and it’s never from lack of resolution but rather a spark of wonder. Like Will Oldham pacing the streets of Portland at the end of Old Joy, you sort of know that not much is likely to change. But you can’t help hoping that maybe this time it will.

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Showing Up is a 2022 American comedy-drama film co-written and directed by Kelly Reichardt, in her fourth collaboration with actress Michelle Williams. The film follows a sculptor managing the competing attentions of her art, job, family, and friendships. It was released on May 27, 2022.


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