Directed and Written by: Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek's Cutoff)
Starring: Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, and Lily Gladstone
In 1994 several major film directors made the feature film debut, the most notable being Danny Boyle, Frank Darabont, Doug Liman, David O. Russell, and Kelly Reichardt. I could turn this into a think piece clamoring for Reichardt to get same "indie cred" David O. Russell has attained, but I won't. I will state that gender plays a role in this divide between these two directors trajectories, and opportunities. I probably could write a book about the gender gap with women behind the camera, but instead I will dive deeper into this beautiful film about women, and their everyday lives in the American Heartland.
Reichardt focuses on four women and their lives in Montana. Throughout the the film we get to meet Laura Dern's hard working, and often funny Laura. Laura is attempting to help her client Fuller, played by Jared Harris, realize he can't sue a former employer for a work place accident. Laura takes Fuller to another lawyer (a man) who explains to Fuller he can't win, and Fuller walks away. Laura is exasperated, claiming if she were a man she would be taken serious in her profession.
In any other film, like "I Don't Know How She Does It" (2011) you would get an exaggerated version of this women. How does the woman get the guy, have the kids, and get taken seriously at work? I did not see this Sarah Jessica Parker jaunt, but I have seen a hundred films of this ilk. 'Women' is different, and focuses on the basic every day humanity of Laura, similar struggles working to balance some extreme moments, with her own life, blended with the absurd humor we all encounter. This film does not assert itself to belittle the concept of the working women, but instead shows great complexity.
To state that these stories intersect is factual, but not like a Babel, where these stories are all connected because we are part of the global world. James Le Gross who plays William is connected to Laura, but it's his wife Gina who Reichardt introduces next. Gina is played by Reichardt's oft used muse Michelle Williams and she is one of the most complex characters in the film. Gina's complexity comes in the form of mother/and boss of her husband; she is his actual boss. On their way home Gina and William stop by their distant neighbor Albert's house (Rene Auberjonois) home to ask for some sand stone in order to add to their families new "authentic home."
This sandstone represents Gina's desire to maintain that consistent Montana homestead while creating a somewhat gentrified space; she wants to use this to build up her own happiness and keep her family together. Gina or characters like her are often represented as shrill, and one note, but Williams and Reichardt craft a woman who is both unlikeable and sympathetic. Gina is working hard to maintain her family, and she believes this sand stone will be the foundation to stabilize their lives. Gina is willing to barter hard and take away the stone from it's natural habitat in order to c aid in her happiness. This all culminates in a wave, a telling wave, and the response.
The most compelling story focuses on Jamie, played by first time actress Lily Gladstone. The quiet, shy awkward Jamie tends to the horses for a seasonal job at the ranch. One night she sees people entering the school, and decides to follow. Jamie stumbles into a school law class taught by Beth (Kristen Stewart). The two connect and Lily joins Beth in a diner after class, Lily does not even eat with Beth but rather waits to get a burger from a vending machine. Gladstone conveys the nerves in awkwardness in a way that even seasoned actresses could not convey. Even when when Gladstone is just simply staring at Beth, you feel so much care, and emotion in the simplest glance.
As you follow the characters journeys you get lost in is the sumptuous visuals. Reichardt worked with cinematographer Christopher Blavelt who shot Meek's Cutoff. From the snow covered mountains, to the way in which the street light hits Lily while on horse back riding down the high way. This film captures every element of Montana, and the Heartland, and how these women are lives are connected to the land around them.
Reichardt sets a tone that envelopes you in the everyday lives of these people; she breaks down the wall, while never letting an artificial moment exist. Whether you are watching converse Beth and Lily past a man slurping soup, or Native Americans dancing while Laura wanders the mall after eating some lunch you feel at home in their lives. Certain Women is one of the most beautiful and captivating films I have seen.