Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Starring Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern
Director Kelly Reichardt has become a master at crafting rich portraits of ordinary lives. With her newest project, Certain Women, Reichardt outdoes herself. Supported by a stellar cast, including Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Kristen Stewart, Certain Women serves as a study of the human spirit, never being overtly preachy or over the top.
Built out of short stories by Maile Meloy, Certain Women takes a microscope to small pieces of the lives of three women in small-town Montana. Laura (Dern) is a lawyer dealing with a disgruntled client, who, through a set of circumstances, ends up taking a security guard at his former place of work as a hostage. Gina (Williams) is a wife whose family, a husband and teenage daughter, are in the process of building a new home from the ground up. And, Beth (Stewart) is a young lawyer tasked with teaching a late night class in a nearby small town.
Though their stories only barely intersect, each carries a similar theme of vulnerability and tact in the face of adversity or trouble. Each flawed in their own unique way, the women showcase unnerving courage, even when situations aren't what they seem. It's in the small things where Reichardt's film really takes flight. Though Laura is caught up in a minor hostage situation, her un-phased demeanor is a true slice of life. Gina's unwavering determination is so quiet and subtle. And, Beth's curiosity and honesty is both heart-breaking for those around her and, ultimately, the most interesting.
Broken up into three acts, it's the third, Beth's story, that's the most captivating. Newcomer Lily Gladstone steals the entire picture as a stoic ranch hand who stumbles into Beth's late night class. The budding, but awkward, friendship that builds between the two is obviously out of convenience, but that's only when looking from the outside. A romantic interest blooms, but is entirely one-sided. The aching loneliness that slowly builds as each person realizes where their situation actually lies will elicit the film's heaviest emotions.
One of Reichardt's films' best traits is always in the visuals, and there's nothing underwhelming here. A beautiful, stilted opening shot of a train crossing the quiet, lonely land of the American west sets the tone for the mundane, in a good way, about to be experienced.
Certain Women is a quiet masterpiece rich in intricacies and some of the year's best performances. It's harsh and real, almost to a fault, while remaining earnest and beautiful.
Runtime: 1h 47min