Certain Women is all about the performances, and those of all four of the film’s female leads are, without fail, impeccable.
Kelly Reichardt, the film’s writer, editor and director is known for her minimalist approach to storytelling, and this is no exception. Don’t expect a traditional structure, or overtly dramatic turns. Instead be prepared for subtlety, stillness, and contemplation. That’s not to say that there’s no drama to be found here, as there absolutely is, but it comes from human interaction, and from a uniquely personal point of view. This is cinema in incredibly raw form.
We’re given three stories, each essentially acting as short films in their own right. They brush ever so gently past each other for the briefest of moments, yet for the most part they’re separated narratively, with connections between each thread coming thematically, and in the small town setting of Montana. The first of the women we’re introduced to is Laura Dern’s lawyer of the same name, who’s dealing with a particularly delicate client (the excellent Jared Harris). Meanwhile, elsewhere in town, Michelle Williams’ Gina is battling with family life, whilst striving to put together the plans for a new home which her husband will build for them. The final pieces of the puzzle are Kristen Stewart’s ambitious but exhausted lawyer/teacher Elizabeth, and Lily Gladstone’s desperately lonely Rancher, with the film exploring their burgeoning relationship.
It’s the latter duo that receives the largest slice of attention, and rightly so. There’s a fantastic chemistry between Gladstone and Stewart, with as much being conveyed through their silences as there is through the words they share. It might well prove to be hugely heart-breaking at times, but it’s the most complete feeling of the trio of tales, and the most emotionally fulfilling too. Though Laura Dern’s character gets the “highest profile” moments, with both an affair and a hostage situation to contend with, everything surrounding her is so firmly understated it’s difficult to connect with her completely. And likewise, brilliant though Michelle Williams is (continuing her fine recent form following Manchester by the Sea), her thread is comparatively underserved.
We get varying degrees of closure, some of it sweet, some tough to take, but still I couldn’t help but be left wanting more in some respects; I just feel that there’s more to be told of these fascinating women’s lives. We get only brief, passing sections of each character’s journeys – and though the journeys may be incomplete, they are entirely worthy of investing in.
Rating (out of 5):
Certain Women is released in cinemas on March 3rd.