Film Review: Certain Women

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Originally published on The National Student on 20/02/17. 

3-stars1

Kelly Reichardt returns to small-town America with a cleverly written but otherwise ultra drab day-in-the-life drama. 

Between Meek’s Cutoff, Wendy and Lucy and (the slightly louder) Night Moves, Kelly Reichardt is pretty much the go-to force for quiet, contemplative dramas surrounding small-town women. And that success just keeps on flowing with this, her latest, already award-winning, festival favourite.

Zeroing in on the fairly average lives of four local women in snowy middle-American Montana, Certain Women isn’t what you would call a particularly exciting film. It’s cheap, incredibly slow (often frustratingly so) and the large majority of its key conflicts are all ridiculously underplayed. Put simply, it doesn’t really feel like much happens. 

This isn’t to say that nothing does though. In fact, between the three broken-up narratives here – a lawyer and her troublesome client, a quietly failing marriage and a cutesy student-teacher crush – there’s plenty of dramatic meat for the spectacular leading cast to really tear through. It’s just that the drama in question is so subtly dealt that it’s very, very easy to miss. 

Reichardt’s own script is very tidily strung together, linking each story quietly but effectively, and building the characters themselves terrifically. Michelle Williams, Laura Dern and Lily Gladstone are all not only beautifully cast but thoroughly immersive to watch, and even the usually one-note Kristen Stewart takes a step back from her usual umm-ing and ah-ing to become a surprisingly sweet addition. 

Lump this all together with Reichardt’s regular lensman Christopher Blauvelt’s finest and most pensive cinematography to date, and technically speaking, Certain Women is a marvel to behold. Lovers of carefully astute framing and seriously understated performances look no further. Everybody else though, might as well run for the hills. 

If you’ve ever seen a Kelly Reichardt film before you’ll know what to expect, and in terms of the director’s own vision and talent, this certainly feels like a culmination of pretty much all of her work to date. So seamlessly structured and softly worded; the patient minded will find a lot to love. But it is a film for a very specific, cinema-loving audience and those who find themselves easily bored should almost definitely look elsewhere. 

Certain Women is an incredibly insightful and tremendously assembled piece of work, with an awards-worthy cast to boot, but it does require an extraordinary amount of patience to tolerate. 

Certain Women is out in UK cinemas 3rd March. 

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