Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women is a series of character portraits, with some being more absorbing than others. When it connects, the film is engaging and stimulating.
Laura, a lawyer, must deal with a client who refuses to face reality. A husband and wife are building a new home in a remote location. A ranch hand forms a friendship with a lawyer who is teaching an adult education class…
Director Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women is comprised of three stories that take place in Montana. There are loose threads that link these tales, but they function as three separate chapters. Reichardt offers character portraits of different women in the same state, at different times in their lives. The first and third sections are the most interesting. The middle chapter sags a little, with neither a compelling protagonist nor narrative.
The first chapter almost immediately reveals a female struggle. The film requests empathy for Laura, in the way her advice is heeded by her client (compared that of a male lawyer). The film moves beyond this to a portrait of an authentic protagonist, with a tense episode. Although the focus is on women in Reichart’s film, the male characters are given sufficient depth. The second chapter also feels natural, yet the activity here does not grip. Events unfold slowly, revealing detail about the couple at the centre. Yet, this chapter is the weakest of the three; it simply feels that not much is said here. The third chapter is wonderful for its depiction of a burgeoning adoration. The relationship between Elizabeth and the unnamed rancher is sweet, and leads to a tense climax. The beauty of Certain Women is its authentic characters.
Laura Dern delivers a solid performance as Laura. Michelle Williams is decent, but would have benefitted from a meatier role. Both Kirsten Stewart and Lily Gladstone are great in the final chapter. Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematography captures the beauty of the landscape.
When it works, Certain Women is a beautifully rendered film. A stronger second chapter would have elevated the film immensely.