Starring Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Lily Gladstone, Jared Harris, James Le Gros
Writer/director Kelly Reichardt doesn’t do cinematic women favors in her latest bleak slog Certain Women. Based on short stories that comprise three different women in three different segments, Reichardt sets out to show women in traditionally male roles/occupations and how differently they are treated. Normally a cast of Oscar nominees Dern, Williams along with Stewart would be able to elevate even the most difficult material, not here. The glory of Montana captured in Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer (1998) is all but lost in Reichardt’s use of the Big Sky State.
Laura Wells (Dern) is a lawyer in the small town of Livingston. She has a client who will not accept his lack of options until she puts him in front of a male lawyers outside of Billings to give him the same information. “If I were a man, things would be simpler,” she digresses on the phone with her lover. Gina Lewis (Williams) owns a construction company and her husband Ryan (Le Gros) is the lead builder. From time to time, Gina will check in on an elderly man who refuses to talk shop with her, avoiding eye contact and only speaking to her husband. Jamie (Gladstone) is isolated from society as she spends her days tending and breaking in horses. She happens upon a night class in town where she becomes quite fascinated by a young teacher (Stewart).
Reichardt certainly knows how to put characters on screen and embed them in unusual cinematic scenarios, but her talent as a filmmaker ends there.
Thirty-six minutes into Certain Women you realize that it’s going absolutely nowhere. If Reichardt’s goal was to celebrate strong female characters in non-traditional roles, she fails. The only thing Certain Women makes the viewer feel is ‘thank goodness I am not a female living in Montana’. Reichardt always carefully selects the settings of her films which play an important part in the story. Montana is featured in lots of films, it’s never looked as bleak and off putting as we see here. No one looks as uncomfortable and as displeased with their surroundings as Dern’s character, who never even bats an eye when she finds herself in the dullest hostage situation ever captured on film.
The most memorable emotion might be the awkwardness created between Gladstone and Stewart, if any of these characters deserved more expanded narrative, it would be the third scenario. Reichardt certainly knows how to put characters on screen and embed them in unusual cinematic scenarios, but her talent as a filmmaker ends there. None of the women here are admirable or noteworthy and that’s a shame. She needs someone to bring her stories to life and engage the audience instead of presenting such passive material. To say nothing much happens in this movie wouldn’t be fair because Michelle Williams character does buy some rocks at one point.
A bleak, off putting look at women in non-traditional roles in Montana.