If Alice Munro made films, you’d pray they’d look like this. Kelly Reichardt’s adaptation of short stories by Montana native Maile Meloy has a staggeringly subtle touch, and is an experience more Munroesque than Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta, a film actually based, however loosely, on three interconnected Munro stories. Though the feather-light mesh of stories provokes comparisons to similarly-structured literary and cinematic texts, the strength of Certain Women’s human, emotional stories – and of the actors who embody them – make it distinctly memorable.
Like Paul Haggis’ celebrated/reviled Crash, Certain Women connects hard-living, hard-working characters who share geography, yet here there are no big lessons or moments of revelation, just quiet, inconspicuous reappearances of characters. A sharply delineated three-act structure almost entirely isolates the women in their own stories, with recurrences echoing the structure and tone of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge.
Certain Women could be accused of slow pace or lack of consequence, yet it entrances through its visuals (beautifully grainy on 16mm film) and sympathetic yet nuanced characterisation. Some portraits are much more articulate than others. Kristen Stewart is shoehorned into an underwritten and incomprehensible role which will be overshadowed by her superior lead turn in Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper. Though the rigorous yet natural detail of Laura Dern’s performance makes her more addictively watchable than ever, Lily Gladstone is deserving of most praise. She makes the loneliness of her unnamed ranch-hand felt, not merely read, by the audience, in a storyline that is a kind of gender-inverted yet frustrated Brokeback Mountain.
Earthy, real, and rich despite its understated narratives, Certain Women will reward patient cinemagoers with its delicate detail. Best of all, Reichardt is not afraid to show the unattractive qualities of these women, or to allow us to laugh in bittersweet recognition.
CAST: Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Lily Gladstone, Jared Harris, James Le Gros
DIRECTOR: Kelly Reichardt
WRITERS: Kelly Reichardt (screenplay), Maile Meloy (stories)
SYNOPSIS: A look at a handful of intersecting lives across Montana. A lawyer (Dern) must diffuse a hostage situation, a married couple (Williams and Le Gros) prepare to build a new home, and a ranch hand (Gladstone) forms an attachment to a young lawyer (Stewart).