Film Review

Showing Up

todayMay 11, 2023 184 1

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of Kelly Reichardt, films about the artistic process, films that explore female friendship and family relationships, slow burn emotional films

Kelly Reichardt and Michelle Williams have now made four films together.  Starting in 2008 with Wendy and Lucy (a devastatingly powerful film) then moving to the Western Meek’s Cutoff in 2010, then on to the adaptation of three short stories Certain Women in 2016, and now with Showing Up in 2022.  All four of these collaborations have explored the complexity of female relationships, whether they be family, friends, acquaintances, or complete strangers.  This combination of artistic brilliance has created a quartet of films that can be matched with any other cinematic duo, easily on par with Martin Scorcese & Robert DeNiro or Jean-Pierre Léaud & François Truffaut.  Each performance by Williams is layered with nuance, pathos, and quiet magnitude.  Her performance here is at the same level as her Oscar-nominated work in The Fabelmans. 

Most of Reichardt’s films are set in the Pacific Northwest, a territory rarely explored in Hollywood.  Few filmmakers have captured the region with such precision. Showing Up is about the art scene in Portland.  Christopher Blauvelt’s subtle yet enticing cinematography lovingly reveals the daily life and operations of a community art school.  It moves from figure drawing (the graphic nudity in the rating system) to weaving to ceramics.  Everything is equal in this space.

Unlike Portlandia (which playfully and sometimes maliciously pokes fun at the city) Showing Up achieves a delicate balance that allows the audience to see the challenges between the hard work of the artist and the absurd elements in the art world.  Michelle Williams plays sculptor Lizzy, who is preparing her work for an exhibit.  Her astonishing work, by noted Portland artist Cynthia Lahti, becomes symbolic of Lizzy’s family and struggles. This includes her relationship with her artistic parents and brother, each with their own eccentricities.  Judd Hirsh, Maryann Plunkett, and John Magaro are perfectly cast in these respective roles, each bringing the same balance to their performances.  Hong Chou (in a tremendous series of performances in Watchmen and The Whale) plays Jo, Lizzy’s fellow artist as well as her landlord/friend, and is a delightful contrast to Lizzy’s melancholic existence.  Of special note is the performance of animals and the roles they play in human lives.  Lizzy has a demanding ginger cat, Ricky, who one night captures and injures a pigeon.  The story of the pigeon is essential to our connection with the characters.  You will find yourself marveling at these performances and questioning when the animatronic is being used.

Kelly Reichardt is one of the finest directors working today.  Her consistent visual representation of empathy and the human experience is invaluable to the art of cinema.

Go see it now at Sidewalk Cinema.

Written by: Gareth Jones

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