Certain Women 12A
A portmanteau from Kelly Reichardt, these three stories based on Maile Meloy's work explores loneliness, alienation and unrequited love: Laura Dern is a lawyer trying to convince client Jared Harris he has no case in his personal injury claim; Michelle Williams attempts to connect with her daughter during a family camping trip; while rancher Lily Gladstone falls for tired night school teacher Kristen Stewart.
After the somewhat mainstream Night Moves, Kelly Reichardt retreats back to the arthouse with this dour and downbeat offering. Similar in style to her Old Joy, which saw two old friends fail to find the spark they once enjoyed when they reunite years later, the writer-director explores a similar disconnection here. Like Old Joy it's the narrative space with its stretches of silence and slow pacing, allowing what's unsaid to scream louder than what is said, that dominates.
Dern is wonderful in the first vignette as the understanding lawyer who can't help her client, whose frustration gets the better of him when he takes a security guard hostage in search for his records his former employers have on him. Harris' desperation is palpable, what the decision means to his financial future etched on his pained face throughout. The most tender offering is the third story, where newcomer Lily Gladstone shines as the lonely rancher unsure if Stewart's end-of-her-tether lawyer/teacher is too a lesbian. Their conversations circle with Gladstone's subtle probing revealing nothing; Stewart, with dark circles under her eyes, is just too tired (the four hour commute is killing her) to pick up on the signals. This one is a heartbreaker.
What fails to lift off is Williams' story. The camping trip is cut short so Williams and husband James Le Gros can visit an old man suffering from the onset of senility (Deep Space Nine's Rene Auberjonois) in the hope of buying a pile of rocks. Williams' Gina is going through the motions of mother and husband – we get the impression that she wants to get on better with her daughter because it would make her life easier – and the idea of use the discarded stone to build a rockery is something a settled wife and mother should be doing. But her heart isn't in it. Reichardt's heart isn't in it either – the story is drab and other than Auberjonois's subtle performance there's no real talking point.
Other than the occasional link - Dern is having an affair with Williams' husband and has a Hitchcock-esque cameo when Gladstone visits a law office in search of Stewart – the three stories are unconnected other than theme and the weather: Reichardt's use of the surrounding landscape – cold, bleak, sleet, snow-covered mountains always in the distance – taps into the mood of all the characters.
Review by Gavin Burke | 11:05 | Wednesday 22nd February 2017 | Movie Review