It requires patience to watch Kelly Reichardt’s deliberately slow-moving films but when they are as good as Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff I feel amply rewarded. Certain Women is an anthology of vignettes about women who live in Montana and face a variety of personal and professional challenges. The drama is low-key and the issues far from extraordinary, but the characters are real and recognizable. What’s more, they are brought to life by talented actresses who understand Reichardt’s less-is-more approach to storytelling.

Laura Dern plays a lawyer who can’t seem to convince her hot-headed client (Jared Harris) that his attempt to re-sue the contracting firm where he worked when he was injured is an exercise in futility.

Michelle Williams is a more enigmatic figure, stuck in a stale marriage (to James Le Gros) with a truculent teenage daughter. All she really cares about is reclaiming some historic sandstone to use in building a new house. This requires persuading a somewhat addled older man (Rene Auberjonois) to let go of this material piled in his yard.

Kristen Stewart is a law student who agrees to teach a class on “school law” for some locals, one of whom (Lily Gladstone) literally wanders into her lecture one night and finds herself attracted to the teacher.

The film reaches no great conclusions and leaves its stories open-ended for the most part. These character studies, based on short stories by Maile Meloy, comprise a minor but still satisfying slice of life. As in most of Reichardt’s films the Western setting plays a vital role, its vast open space emphasizing the loneliness most of these women face—and the need to fend for themselves, whether they choose to or not.

Certain Women may seem to be a minor work on the face of it, but its setting and characters have stayed with me in the week since I’ve seen it. That’s what sets Reichardt’s work apart—the ability to get under your skin.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024