NYFF Film Review: ‘Certain Women’ Is Quietly Powerful With Stunning Performances

certain_women2016 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: A methodical and slowly cooked film focusing on love and women, Kelly Reichardt‘s “Certain Women” is totally engrossing. The film lives and breathes in the quiet. The silence, in which Reichardt decides to focus on the inner emotion of the character, is quite compelling and uncommonly absorbing. Rest assured, you won’t get many smiles and cheers as this is a solidly dour experience. What you will get, though, is a blanket of stunning performances from Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams and especially Lily Gladstone.

“Certain Women” explores three intersecting lives across Montana. One follows a lawyer named Laura (Dern). She tries to defuse a hostage situation and calm her disgruntled client (Jared Harris), who feels slighted by a workers’ compensation settlement. Two years after she snuck into the Best Supporting Actress category for her work in “Wild,” Dern is at the top of her game. This is after a career of many overlooked turns (e.g. “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Inland Empire” to name a few). She always manages to find an inner intensity in each character she portrays. In this segment Harris unexpectedly shines.

The second is following a married couple named Gina and Ryan (Williams and James Le Gros). They break ground on a new home, but marital fissures are exposed when they try to persuade an elderly man to sell his stockpile of sandstone. Williams, who has worked with Reichardt on her previous films “Wendy & Lucy” and “Meek’s Cutoff,” is once again proving she’s one of the finest actresses in the business. She internalizes a frustration as a mother who is the anchor to her family.

lilygladstoneThe third follows a ranch hand named Jamie (Gladstone) who forms an attachment to a young lawyer named Beth (Stewart). Beth inadvertently finds herself teaching a twice-weekly adult education class four hours from her home while forming an unlikely friendship. Stewart, continuously seeking new and dynamic characters, is simply vibrant. Her performance is palpable in the moments of the silence, where you can feverishly feel the inner turmoil that surrounds her feelings. You can feel the quietly comforting, yet distressing feeling of finding a connection with someone. That’s the true arc of her character where Stewart capitalizes on every given opportunity. It should be said, though, the reason why Stewart is so effective is because of her on-screen partner in Gladstone, one of the magnificent discoveries of 2016. The biggest takeaway to “Certain Women,” Gladstone ultimately shows the viewer the paralysis of secrecy and protection.

While the approach to “Certain Women” can be seen as dry as the Montana landscapes in which it lives, there’s a vulnerable and mystical direction that’s hard to ignore. The gallery of imagery, gorgeous backdrops, and effective and subtle undertones are among some of the year’s most intriguing. The themes may be dour, but just like life, not everything is rosy and has a definitive ending.

“Certain Women” is distributed by IFC Films and opens Oct. 14.

GRADE: (★★★½)

Trailer:

About Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of AwardsCircuit.com. Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He’s also an active member of New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.
  • Joey Magidson

    I thought it was well acted but honestly pretty boring.

    • Grant Washburn

      I thought it looked pretty boring as well, but that was just based off of the trailer. 3.5 stars though, so maybe I’ll have to see it myself.

      • Joey Magidson

        Your mileage may vary.

  • Ryan

    I’m a huge fan of Jared Harris and Lily Gladstone in this (as in, they need Oscar campaigns), though if I were to give a star rating to each segment, I’d give the third story 3 1/2 stars, the first story 3 stars, and the second story 2 stars.

    The third one is just so appealingly quaint, and that long shot of Gladstone at the end is just begging the audience to try and figure out what’s going on in her head and it was the epitome of captivating. The first segment I liked just fine, even if it drags whenever Harris isn’t onscreen. The confrontation at the end of this segment does an impressive job of subverting expectations while building on Harris’ character. But that second segment just did absolutely nothing for me. Its an interesting enough concept that winds up feeling repetitive and never rises above its extremely low stakes. But for me, that third segment just makes the whole film so completely worth it.