Review: 'Certain Women'

From Kelly Reichardt, the film ties together three loosely connected stories based on the work of author Maile Meloy.

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click to enlarge Michelle Williams as Gina Lewis in "Certain Women" - Photo: Nicole Rivelli / Courtesy of IFC Films
Photo: Nicole Rivelli / Courtesy of IFC Films
Michelle Williams as Gina Lewis in "Certain Women"
Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women aligns nicely with the cinematic aesthetic she’s developed and nurtured over a career that now spans more than 20 years and six full-length features: stylistically spare, elliptical, emotionally nuanced and told from a distinctly female perspective. Reichardt specializes in small-scale stories about everyday people. Curiously, Certain Women is also something of a departure for Reichardt. Instead of focusing on one central narrative, it ties together three loosely connected stories based on the work of Montana-based author Maile Meloy. Certain Women opens with an extended, uninterrupted shot of a lonely train moving down the tracks, a sequence that sets the tone from the get-go. 

The first third centers on Laura (Laura Dern), a lawyer dealing with a client (Jared Harris) who’s certain he should be compensated for a workplace accident that has left him physically and emotional altered. The second third focuses on Gina (Michelle Williams), a bread-winner wife and mother whose preoccupation with some rare sandstone that she wants to use in the construction of the family’s new home seems a metaphor for what might be missing from her personal life. 

The final and most emotionally engaging third centers on a pair of young women who strike up an unlikely friendship: a nameless Native American horse rancher (Lily Gladstone) and Beth (Kristen Stewart), a law graduate with limited social skills. 

Certain Women is shot matter-of-factly on location amid rural Montana’s no-frills small-town locations (including a drab law office, an ill-lit classroom and a typical ranch house adorned with an eternally blasé tan-based color palette), a production choice that no doubt aids in building the story’s low-key authenticity. The actors’ performances are stellar across the board. But the triptych approach mutes Certain Women’s overall impact, yielding a facinating character study of curiously little narrative thrust. (Opens Friday at Esquire Theatre) (R) Grade: B

Also Opening This Week:

The Handmaiden // Inferno // Harry & Snowman 

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