Vintage Kelly Reichardt Reignites Your Artsy Self
Kelly Reichardt, ladies and gentlemen. It’s no surprise that she continues her hot streak with Showing Up, a follow-up to her award-winning slow-burn delight, First Cow. Cinephiles will also remember the indie director’s other hit films, such as Night Moves and Certain Women, among others. And now, she continues in vintage Reichardtian fashion with Showing Up, yet another collaboration with Oscar nominee Michelle Williams (The Fabelmans, Manchester by the Sea).
Here she plays a sculptor preparing to open a new art show while balancing her creative life with the daily dramas of family and friends. It’s a unique, refreshing location for such a sweet, relatable feature. A24’s new release is a vibrant and captivatingly funny portrait of art — and just might make you dust off those paintbrushes/colored pencils/pottery tools, etc. Here’s our take.
Slice of Life in Portland’s Art Scene
Reichardt has set most of her films in Oregon, and Showing Up certainly keeps the trend with modern Portland, a city with self-declared “weirdness” comprised of artists, outsiders and non-conformists. Portland is a lovely city, and it’s always a treat to learn about and see more of it on the big screen. For some of us, our only exposure to it is IFC’s acclaimed series Portlandia. And while Showing Up also brings the laughs, it’s somewhat of a drama at its core.
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Michelle Williams shimmers with complexity as Lizzy, who is trying to hold things together as she works and lives alone — with a trouble-making cat by her side, that is. (You’ll see…) Her hot water heater is busted, her brother (a standout John Magaro) might be going off the rails, her divorced parents (Maryann Plunkett and Judd Hirsch) are mentally draining more often than not — and she’s got a testy landlord and former art classmate, Jo (Hong Chau), who provides zero help with Lizzy’s residential struggles. One positive addition, however, in her day-to-day is warm-spirited colleague Eric (Outkast’s André Benjamin, who is also credited with playing the flute on the film’s soundtrack), but even his laissez-faire demeanor jeopardizes Lizzy’s work later in the story.
A Relatable Story of Beauty and Banality
Overall, Lizzy is deeply relatable to humorous effect, and many foresee Williams nabbing awards recognition for the role in the coming years. Lizzy’s everyday tribulations, which spawn out of pressurized moments of absurdity and inspiration, all build to a satisfying third act that will make you stop and recognize the beauty around you, no matter where you are in life. Showing Up highlights the beautiful, jagged shape of a person’s life, as brilliantly showcased with the cherry-on-top ending involving just Lizzy, her old pal Jo, and the quieted streets of Portland.
“I think this story is relatable to anyone who ever tried to make something out of nothing,” Michelle Williams said in a statement to A24. “It’s about someone trying to overcome lots of resistance, inside and out, and break down obstacles to do what she loves, because life is always getting completely in the way.”
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Over the course of one frantic week, Reichardt takes us into the fabric of how Lizzy makes it through harried days and night-time triumphs in her garage studio, where she goes through the process of making her art. The somewhat simple yet crafty cinematography effectively complements the quirky and frenzied stone of the film at large. Even that impressive one-shot at the beginning, which the opening credits play over, will make you laugh out loud as a sort of fourth-wall-breaking ploy that instantly brings you right into the story.
Michelle Williams’ Art Film Is Inspirational — Even for Non-Artists
According to A24, Reichardt and co-writer Jonathan Raymond’s script is inspired early 20th century Canadian artist Emily Carr, as they were drawn to the years Carr spent so distracted by being a landlord that she entirely stopped painting. They loved the idea of an artist biopic about an artist doing everything but art. In Showing Up, as her own show looms, the crucial question for Lizzy is frankly, “Can I continue to show up for others while also showing up for myself?” Following an elegant sequence of shots introducing us to the folks that fill up Lizzy’s world, Showing Up quickly gets to something deeper and more personal.
And let’s not forget Jo — a supporting role nailed by Hong Chau, whose new Netflix series The Night Agent has already been renewed for a second season. Reichardt sets up a unique dynamic between the two, a friendship between two women (and sometimes frenemies) in the same industry, at once envious and admiring. Lizzy and Jo are both hard-working artists, thereby allowing them to identify with each other despite the awkward landlord-tenant dynamic that drives Lizzy to a breaking point.
One highlight is when Jo is throwing a party next door, and Lizzy freaks that her hot water still isn’t working, so she calls Jo and leaves an angry voicemail. We’ve probably all done it. Right as she’s about to hang up, Lizzy adds one more note to the voice message: “Have a great night!” It’s classic Reichardt dry humor that continuously pulls us, identifying more and more with Michelle Williams as Lizzy.
Lizzy is in nearly every frame of Showing Up, helping make even this glum character relatable. From early on, Reichardt reportedly envisioned Williams, the four-time Oscar nominee, playing the lead role. The two have become a frequent actor-director duo, with Williams starring in Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff, and the Montana-based Certain Women. Donning dark hair and a more artistic demeanor than some of her more recent film roles, Williams finds layers in a woman torn between her passion, family, residence — and menacing cat.
From A24, Showing Up hits theaters April 7.