2016 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.
The 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.