Kelly Reichardt is an embarrassing cinematic blindspot for yours truly. The indie film titan is a name with whom I am familiar, however, I’m pitifully behind on watching her filmography. So, as I learned Reichardt would be teaming with Michelle Williams on a film called Showing Up, this fierce pairing seemed like a great place to start. Would the drama meet my expectations head-on? Or would the art lose its luster? Read on!
Showing Up follows Lizzie (Williams) an artist struggling to not only prep for an upcoming show but also do what the rest of us creative stiffs struggle with… holding down our day jobs. At the same time, her flighty landlord (Hong Chau), her challenging father (Judd Hirsch), her quirky family, and a pigeon with a broken wing don’t make life any easier. André 3000, Maryann Plunkett and Chase Hawkins c0-star in the movie. Reichardt directs Showing Up from a script she co-wrote with Jonathan Raymond.
It barely needs to be mentioned that Michelle Williams is already a critical darling in the independent cinema world. At this point in her career, she is already a five-time Academy Award nominee and it’s an easy assumption more are coming her way before she calls it quits.
The actress brings a brilliantly transformative performance as Lizzie. It’s a heady, meandering portrayal in a gentle, slice-of-life motion picture. In fact, the narrative’s contemplative nature makes Williams’ unflinching power in the role that much more impressive. There’s no room to hide here and Williams doesn’t need any. She owns this picture. We follow her throughout the movie as we’re dropped into Lizzie’s world. Williams is unflinching as she shows us this character’s humanity, warts and all.
In fact, this is a riveting performance to watch come together. This is often due to the fact that Lizzie is a challenging character with whom to identify. As mentioned, she’s human. She’s frail. She is a tense, anxious, and inwardly focused woman living a quiet life with her cat. It’s not always easy to like her, but for some, it’s easy to understand her. We’ve all been there.
Meanwhile, in Showing Up writer and director Kelly Reichardt provides a uniquely complicated examination of this creatively geared world. She sets the film in and around an academic artist enclave in Portland Oregon. You can practically smell the acrylic paint in every frame. These characters eat, drink, and sleep their art as they lead their quirky lives.
However, there’s nothing simple or flighty about this setting. Reichardt puts forward a complex examination of the pressure bubbling beneath the surface in a world some may see as superficial or trivial. There’s nothing easy about living a creative life.
Reichardt’s camera effortlessly drifts through the art school watching these creatives work with stark clarity. We see the “Art of Movement” classes and the strangely abstract sculptures taking shape. Beyond that though, Reichardt zooms in on the pressure, the anxiety and the struggle many feel to perform. We see this brought to life not simply through Williams’ performance, but also in Reichardt’s seamless world-building.
This underlying tension becomes evident as Lizzie is finally able to showcase her work in the third act. Reichardt’s camera moves through the space with effortless simplicity. It hovers in the gallery, listening in on Altman-esque overlapping conversations. While it feels completely naturalistic, it quickly becomes clear that while these characters are saying so much, they’re actually saying very little. This is all entirely performative.
In truth, Showing Up‘s construction is at the same time its biggest positive and its biggest struggle. For those who gel with this narrative and the scope of the world, it has the capability to be mind-blowing. At the same time though, this is (as mentioned) a quiet and meandering work. While it isn’t an “unaccessible” movie, it can be a challenge.
With that being said though, Showing Up never drags. It floats, it drifts but it comes to a smooth conclusion before it starts to lag. There are so many possible ways for a gentle movie like this to get bogged down, but it never happens. Reichardt keeps you thinking and feeling and in that, the movie feels incredibly refreshing.
Ultimately, I can’t say Showing Up is an easy filmgoing experience. In fact, it’s almost a bit deceptive. This tranquil and meandering movie is rooted in a place of anxiety and pressure. Nothing comes easily in this strange and interesting world, but it’s a beautiful journey getting there.
Showing Up has been on a bit of a slow roll-out with releases around the country happening by May 3, 2023.
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