“…this is unashamedly thoughtful, contemplative cinema done well…”
Wayward Wolf Film Review.
As un-rushed and devoid of intensity as the cold and wind-swept location in which it’s set, Kelly Reichardt’s tale of small town life and aspirations, from the perspective of four women, is a slow-paced affair to put it mildly.
In a rather bleak, wintry Wyoming setting, three vaguely intersecting small town stories are explored in Certain Women, each examining the lives of independent women, empowered to search for and achieve their life goals, yet each experiencing variable levels of frustration in attempting to do so, be that on a personal or professional level.
Laura (Laura Dern) is a lawyer, attempting (in the nicest possible way), to shake off a client who stubbornly refuses to accept that he no longer has a legal leg to stand on in his long drawn-out attempts to claim sufficient compensation for a work-related injury. Whilst seemingly harmless enough, he will prove to be sufficiently perturbed to try just about anything in order to gain ‘justice.’
Gina (Michelle Williams) on the other hand is, together with husband Ryan (James LeGros), embarking upon a project to build ‘their’ dream home in a pretty, secluded country setting. Gina appears to be the one leading the way with this project, determining both the look and authenticity of the prospective build. Ryan is noticeably taking a back seat in this project. There appears to be no love lost between the couple. Whilst it’s hard to fathom exactly what it is that Gina wants, it seems as though Ryan would just like her to lighten up a little. Certainly if there ever was any, genuine affection has long since lost its way in their relationship.
The third story is of a stable hand (portrayed sweetly by Lily Gladstone), going through the predictable daily motions of her work. She is somewhat isolated, working outdoors away from most of humanity, with just the horses and an enthusiastically scampering pet dog for company. Perhaps out of desperation she enrols in an evening class (workplace law or something of that nature), in a nearby town. She has no interest in the subject matter, and the tutor of this class – a trainee lawyer by the name of Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart) – has very little interest in, or knowledge of the subject matter either, teaching the course largely off-the-cuff and under duress, quietly peeved at her employer for putting her through the excessively long commute that’s involved in getting there and back each week.
Over the passing weeks, our rancher grows increasingly fond of this rather indifferent educator, whose once weekly appearance pretty much forms the highlight of her ‘stable’ existence (pun intended). But there’s a certain inevitability about her ultimately unrequited affection in this instance.
Much in the same way that the 2016 film, Paterson, achieved its impact through only very slight variations in what were essentially highly repetitive, relatively inconsequential daily routines and occurrences, Certain Women follows along similar lines. Whilst it is effectively a piece devoid of any true resolution, it nonetheless paints a thought-provoking portrait of mutually shared frustrations.
The film’s rather uninviting wintry backdrop possess a raw and remote beauty and somehow perfectly encapsulates the sort of struggle and disenchantment displayed by each of the film’s key protagonists, all of whom portray their parts with subtle expertise. All things considered, it’s probably as close to a perfectly cast film as you could possibly hope for within such settings.
Certain Women slowly probes under the skin of each of its leads to reveal four empowered ladies, yet each of them, to varying degrees, seem to lack the courage of their own convictions; unable, when it really counts, to seize the bull by the horns and get what it is that they truly want; seemingly lacking a little self-belief, remaining somewhat reliant upon others for support and the legitimisation of their intentions.
It won’t appeal to all and I’d hazard a guess that Certain Women will in fact alienate a fair few. It’s admittedly slow, in no hurry to get to the punchline. In fact, there really isn’t one. But this is unashamedly thoughtful, contemplative cinema done well, and all the more power to it.