Film & Television

Movie Review: ‘Certain Women’ — Powerful Portraits of Ordinary Women

Like any couple that has endured (and, most days, enjoyed) almost 25 years of marriage, my husband and I have come up with our own secrets to success. An important one is that neither of us forces our personal preferences on the other. So, he doesn’t serve me bacon or chicken livers; I don’t trick him into eating tofu or tempeh. He doesn’t drag me to his concerts (southern rock/blues guitar), and I don’t make him sit through movies that I don’t think he’ll appreciate.

Case in point. When I got home from a solo matinee over this past weekend, my husband asked, “How was your movie?”

“You would have hated it,” I assured him. “It went nowhere, slowly.”

I meant what I said. For many people, Certain Women, the new film by director Kelly Reichardt will feel profoundly uneventful. But, the lack of actual action isn’t really the point. In three quiet, and yes very slow-moving, stories, Reichardt sows powerful portraits of ordinary women and then encourages them to grow.

Certain Women is based on short stories from Maile Meloy’s acclaimed 2009 collection, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. It stars Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone, Kristen Stewart, Jared Harris, and James Le Gros. The film is set up as a triptych, with three separate stories that cross over in only the most minimal ways. Each focuses on everyday women, making seemingly everyday decisions that define who they are and affect the lives of those they encounter. The film premiered at Sundance last January and then made the rounds of domestic and international film festivals, winning “Best Film” in London. It’s currently in a limited theatrical release by IFC Films. You may have to hunt for it until it reaches on demand video. But, I think you’ll find it worthwhile.

Since her debut in the mid-1990s, Reichardt has made a name for herself as an indie director/screenwriter adept at storytelling focusing on the interior lives of ordinary people. Most of her films (like, Meek’s Cutoff, Old Joy, and Wendy and Lucy) are minimalist in nature. In fact, she strives for the stillness that may make a movie like Certain Women boring for some audiences. “I find the speed of things to be a constant assault,” she has said. “People may go to this experience because they recognize the name of an actor. They expect a narrative that corresponds with the sort of things they consume on a regular basis. They would find something different in that respect.” In Certain Women, the characters are striving for goals that they can’t quite define.

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  • Mary Ann November 8, 2016 at 10:21 am

    I saw this with 3 friends a few nights ago (when we we given a extra hour). 10 minutes into the film someone gently tapped our gentleman friend to rouse him from snoring. Thank you for this review and putting words to my experience.

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