The Good: Generally good performances, The direction is fine
The Bad: Simplistic plots, Oppressive mood, Dull characters
The Basics: Certain Women is a painfully dull film. That is all.
As Autumn Indie Release Season, studios are in the process of getting their finished works out of the drawers and on screens. Certain Women is one such film. The movie was completed early in 2016 and is only now seeing the light of day outside the film festival circuit. So, Certain Women bears the unfortunate brunt of not being particularly well-promoted or put into a lot of theaters, so it is unlikely to set the world ablaze.
The truth is, whenever Certain Women reached theaters, it was never going to excite the masses. It's not that type of film and the cerebral, lingering direction from Kelly Reichart pretty much guaranteed only an indie film-loving audience would give it the time of day. Certain Women is based upon a series of short stories by Maile Meloy and it is worth noting that I've not read any of the source material this film is based upon. This is a pure review of the film Certain Women only. In some ways, though, it is utterly unsurprising that Certain Women is based upon short stories as the film is presented as three vignettes that do not directly interact.
Opening with Ryan Lewis leaving Laura Wells after their rendezvous in a small Montana town, Laura returns to her law office where she meets Mr. Fuller. Fuller has a personal accident case that Wells is not confident about. The next Friday at noon, Wells and Fuller visit another lawyer who tells them they cannot sue for the injuries he sustained at work. When his case is dismissed, Will Fuller takes a hostage, which leads Wells to go in to talk with him to de-escalate the situation. When Wells starts reading Fuller's file to him, he lets his hostage go, but keeps Wells. When Fuller concocts a plan to escape the police outside, Wells turns him in.
Gina Lewis is introduced when she returns from a run to the camp site she, her husband Ryan, and their daughter are sharing. They break camp in uncomfortable silence and go to visit Albert. Albert has sandstone on his property and he distractedly talks with them, while Gina tries to negotiate to buy some of his sandstone. Gina wants the sandstone for the new house they are building from the ground up. The final section of Certain Women features a lonely horse trainer who randomly attends Beth Travis's law class one night. Jamie continues to attend Travis's law class - though she is not interested in the law, just lonely - until one night when Travis does not show up. So, Jamie makes the long trip to Livingston to reach out to Beth to express her feelings to her.
While Laura Dern dominates the first third of Certain Women, it is tough not to be incredibly impressed by Jared Harris. Harris played a brilliant villain in Fringe (reviewed here!) and there is not a hint of his confident, charming alter-ego from that in Certain Women. Harris plays a terribly sad man in Certain Women and he nails the despair of a guy who feels he has lost everything as Fuller. While Dern plays Wells opposite him well, it is hard to call her performance great acting as Dern's Wells simply says what viewers already think about Fuller. Dern looking nervous as she plays Wells walking into the hostage situation is well-executed, but it seems like it would not be hard for a celebrity (or acting talent!) like Dern to portray nervousness about going into a dangerous situation.
Michelle Williams is characteristically low-key as Gina. Williams has long ago proven her ability to mope through a role and Certain Women does not plumb any new depths for her. Similarly, Kristen Stewart plays to her wheelhouse as Beth, not giving a lot of emotion to her portrayal of the teacher. Rene Auberjonois is delightfully subtle as Albert and Lily Gladstone is good as Jamie, but even their performances are not enough to shine up the dull pacing, plot and characters of Certain Women.
Certain Women is a very slow film and Reichardt directs the movie for a sense of realism as opposed to presenting its subjects with any real flash. There are several sections of the movie filmed with an almost completely realistic sense of low lighting, so there are times when Laura Wells is almost entirely obscured in darkness. Rather refreshingly, Reichardt does not make the slow-paced, realistically dark film any less visually appealing by using hand-held cameras. Certain Women looks good with a very classic sense of framing, static shots and gentle pans. Certain Women is a film where the characters move and tell the story and the camera simply follows, which is a refreshing change of pace for movies these days.
Perhaps it is because I now live in the Midwest that there is no real novelty to the slow pacing, long shots and repressed tone of Certain Women, but the film is just boring. I like movies with subtlety, subtext and slow-build, but the movie has to go somewhere. Certain Women does not.
For other movies currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Flock Of Dudes
My Blind Brother
The Whole Truth
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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