Certain Women ★★★½


I remain in awe at how Reichardt’s induction of hyperrealism never feels strenuous or contrived. Somehow the entwining of these three stories feels as though it had been established long before we came along—we’re merely catching a glimpse at some random point along the timeline. On the other hand, the elements that supposedly unite these women are almost tangential enough question why she bothered intersecting them at all. My guess is that the decision was purely structural i.e., a means to present a traditional full-length feature in lieu of a three-part short-film anthology. The first two stories are expectably quaint, encompassing Reichardt’s signature tranquility and humanism; Dern and Williams are great, injecting top-shelf nuance into their soft-spoken performances. The text itself, however, doesn’t dissect life as sharply as Reichardt’s best stuff e.g. the entirety of MEEK'S CUTOFF, most of WENDY AND LUCY, and even RIVER OF GRASS to a more boldly skittish degree.

But then along comes the third parcel—featuring Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone—which is remarkable and breathtaking such that it retroactively wilts the first two segments beneath its massive shadow. On its own, it would make for one of the best short films of the decade. As it currently stands, it’s tethered to two vaguely related limbs that don’t measure up. I tried to make a case that the binding agent of these three women—excluding Stewart, as her purpose is Cause, not Effect—is thematic, not structural; that is, female voices vying loudly for something they desire and deserve—equality, respect, and companionship. They reach for what they want but their efforts are either undercut or outright ignored, and in some way, shape, or form, they’re contorted into the quote-unquote bad guys. Even in the final story, Gladstone’s infatuation—and willingness to drive four hours just to see somebody—is bluntly dismissed when Stewart, in what is easily the film’s most emotionally arresting moment, can’t be bothered reciprocating the obvious affection with a simple thank you or goodbye—only deafening silence.

It’s a casual meditation that’s 67% decent and 33% spectacular. I owe it a revisit with foreknowledge of the superlative closer to better assess Dern and Williams’s stories; I hope they will yield more weight the second time around. For now, just know that the Gladstone/Steward portion would be among my favorites of 2016 had it been a standalone project.

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