Certain Women

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Michelle Williams is one of those actors that are so good I would happily watch them read the phone book. This is just as well because in this film she doesn’t really do anything that’s much more exciting than that.

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Certain Women is slow and very little happens but unlike with other movies, and most episodes of Sex & the City, here it is entirely deliberate. This is not entirely untypical of director Kelly Reichardt who has always been interested in normal people coping with personal tragedy. While her previous films had a different angle though, Meek’s Cutoff with its period setting or Night Moves with its environmental terrorist plotting, there is nothing here to really hang an engaging narrative around. Even Wendy and Lucy, which was essentially about a sad lady trying to get her dog back from the pound, gave a sustained portrait of a woman slipping into despair and hopelessness (I know, fun!) Certain Women has no clear approach other than the fact that it has no clear approach. It’s as though Reichardt had a dinner party where she asked the guests if they’d done anything interesting that week and then wrote a screenplay around their uninspiring anecdotes. 

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Take Michelle Williams’ story thread. In it she want to buy some stone from a guy she knows so that she can build a wall in her new house. The guy then sells it to her. That’s pretty much it. 

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Elsewhere recent graduate Kristen Stewart is teaching a law class but she has to drive a long way to do it because she didn’t realise how far away the place was when she took the job. It’s clearly a bit of a bind for her. Gosh, the drama of it all!

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The final plot line is probably the most exciting because it involves a guy who creates a hostage situation but even that wraps up in a pretty lacklustre fashion.

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The film is certainly not without merit though. There is enough to justify one viewing at least because the portrayals of the women of the title, Williams, Stewart, Laura Dern and Lily Gladstone are highly compelling. Each of them have frustrations in their lives and these are made evident with the most astonishingly subtle acting. The film should also be celebrated for its quiet feminism. These characters are not modern day Ellen Ripleys or Erin Brockovichs, they are not fighting monsters, injustice or oppression. Rather they are regular women demonstrating strength in everyday situations. 

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Certain Women certainly won’t be for everyone. It is ponderous and at times frustrating in its lack of resolution but it has rewards if you are able to be patient with it.

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Certain Women is showing in a total of seven cinemas in London and probably as many again in the rest of the UK.

 

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