In Certain Women, director Kelly Reichardt interlocks three stories of four different women in small-town, rural Montana and pulls some of the utmost subtle and refined performances from an all-star cast. Each character, and their subplots, delve into many different and realistic threats facing femininity in the 21st century. The three women deal with small-town woes and decisions, but each pursue a goal in such a mature and respectful nature, making them all the better and stronger along the journey.
Ripe with symbolism, metaphors, realism, subtle brutality in emotions and relationships: it’s easy to love Certain Women, as it bravely doesn’t dare shy away from just letting something be present on screen. The film’s four lead actresses are, in my opinion, providing career defining performances through subtlety and patience. In light of seeing the film, Reichardt (who, I must confess, I was previously unfamiliar with) is a director that I will ardently follow for the rest of my life. The film is beautifully shot, featuring a very real and bleak color palette from cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt (a frequent David Fincher 1st Assistant Cameraman). His vision behind the camera so perfectly captured the shrill, piercing, cold, bleak nature of the Inland Pacific Northwest, and as someone who is from this area, it immediately caught my attention for the reality of it all.
Despite as much praise I can give it (which I may be understating the importance of the performances – they truly are phenomenal), my fear is that most audiences member will not enjoy this film, as it is, to it’s very core, an indie arthouse film. It is slowly paced, dry, and at times, rather boring. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t noticed this, but the film both sufferers and shines in it’s ability to respect the craft of the story, performances, and at times, the audience, by letting the moments linger for as long as they can. It is something I prefer in stories like this, or even in dramas generally, but like I said, this film certainly is much slower than it really should be. There isn’t much energy to it, and that will no doubt turn away a lot of moviegoers.
It can be a struggle, but if you can focus and harness your patience, the film is worth the watch. Each vignette hit some very deep emotional chord, and delves deep into the realities of love, personal pursuits, idolatry, mortality, fate (or lack there of), faith, and a whole slew of other themes. It is done in such a quiet, subdued manner, with nothing ever spelled out for the audience; everything just kind of… happens. Of the three vignettes, the third segment that focuses on Lily Gladstone and Kristen Stewart’s characters left me with such a gutted feeling towards love and loss, and reminded me all to well of the realities of this world. It’s a fantastic segment that, in my opinion, sets the film up in the higher ranks of indie cinema. The other two segments also push for female and feminist empowerment through various depictions of their pursuits in life, and ultimately, every segment felt genuine and real.
My one gripe with this film, alongside the pace not being for everyone, is that most every male in this film is depicted as a villainous or severely flawed individual/antagonist. Even the topic of masculinity seems to be punished throughout. Men are either radical, impulsive, ignorant, stupid, or cheaters. This might seem like an odd gripe, and the film was, as I have mentioned multiple times, very subtle. So even these male characters were portrayed as relatively realistic. But their actions were very demeaning, and I found this just to be a bit odd and out of place. Especially for a film that is ultimately promoting feminism and equality between genders.
But I digress.
Certain Women is a cold, slow, bleak, yet incredibly beautiful film, with some of the greatest performance I have ever seen from the actresses throughout. The film can be unbearably slow, which will no doubt be a substantial negative in upcoming reviewers’ opinions. However, for me, this film is a tremendous execution of subtlety, respect, and patience.
Written by: Jake Sanders