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.