Movie Review: ‘CERTAIN WOMEN’ – a reflective slice of reality

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

CERTAIN WOMEN
Rated R, 107 min.
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura DernJames Le GrosJared HarrisLily Gladstone and Rene Auberjonois

Based on short stories by Maile Meloy, CERTAIN WOMEN focuses on the narratives that center on three different women in Montana. All of these female characters are strong and independent, using their traits and intelligence to navigate the arcs that revolve around various relationships.

Laura (Laura Dern) is a lawyer who is struggling with a client coming to grips with their own mistake. There is no real remorse, and if there was to begin with, it has already been eroded by months of repetition. She is more insulted by the fact that he didn’t listen to her but took the word of a male colleague.

Gina (Michelle Williams) is trying to get her family’s new house built, but is needing to purchase some sandstone from a reclusive man named Albert (Rene Auberjonois). They are from the city, but looking to establish a country home. Any empathy she has for Albert has been shelved due to her aspirations of authenticity for the house. She hides her vices from the family, establishing a disconnect of said authenticity in herself.

Meanwhile, a ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) is stuck in solitude and monotony. Every day is tending to horses, feeding horses, riding an ATV while the dog chases her, and eating her meals alone. One night, she wonders into a Student Law class just to be with other people. She meets Elizabeth (Kristen Stewart), the teacher of the class, and quickly develops an infatuation.

Kristen Stewart is eth Travis in CERTAIN WOMEN. Courtesy of IFC Films.

Kristen Stewart is eth Travis in CERTAIN WOMEN. Courtesy of IFC Films.

All of these stories have a connective tissue, whether it is direct or indirect. Because the film is so meditative in the study of its main characters, it leads to contemplation on the meaning of the stories. Sure, CERTAIN WOMEN has its strong leads, but there appears to be a recurring conflict of the feminine strength vs. the masculine weakness, independence vs. co-dependence. Each story has the feminine realizing their will much to the detriment of their weaker counterpart’s desire to be something they are not.

It is not a flipping of gender roles, but rather the acceptance that there are no normal gender roles. Looking at the relationship between Jaime and Elizabeth, for example, shows two women encapsulating both sides of the coin. Jaime’s appearance is more masculine as well as her living, whereas Elizabeth is more waifish and is a teacher. But their roles flip whenever they eat in the diner, as Elizabeth is usually eating while Jaime doesn’t eat anything in front of her.

The beauty of Kelly Reichardt’s films lie within the quiet moments and picturesque shots. The opening shot is wide and vast to capture the mountains and plains as a train comes through. The use of these particular shots are given a specific task to assign an isolation, whether it is Laura on an open road while her client cries, or Gina on her morning run. Christopher Blauvelt (who worked with Reichardt on NIGHT MOVES and MEEK’S CUTOFF) lets the realism come into the frame rather than constantly positioning, with people moving in and out of the frame as if the camera weren’t there.

CERTAIN WOMEN isn’t only about certain women in a small town, but rather women who are certain in their goals and feministic values. It is a quiet look at several lives being impacted on a different skew than most movies. This slice of life isn’t meant to have any finality so meandering through the lives of the protagonists can be slow and tedious. However, it is worth it to see fine acting from Dern and Williams, as well as a breakout performance by Lily Gladstone. The stories of these characters are handled with respect by Reichardt, who has certainly become one of the best directors today.

CERTAIN WOMEN opens in limited release on Friday, Oct. 28
Dallas: Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.