- 06 Mar 17
Subtle, empathetic drama about three rural women is slight but powerful
Writer and director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy And Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) is garnering a reputation as an auteur of the female American experience, and this melancholic drama is another powerful addition to her oeuvre.
Based on Maile Meloy’s short stories, Certain Women is a triptych featuring three very loosely connected women living in a rural town. Laura Dern plays a lawyer who is personally harassed and professionally dismissed by a troubled client (Jared Harris). Michelle Williams is a working wife and mother whose position as the breadwinner gets her suspicious glances from older community members, and leaves her feeling alienated within her own family. And newcomer Lily Gladstone plays Jamie, a lonely young ranch hand who falls for Beth (Kristen Stewart), a lawyer who teaches nightschool.
Reichardt captures the constant microaggressions facing these characters; an oppressive weight that transforms the beautifully framed mountain landscapes into a metaphor for the obstacles facing women, rather than the possibilities they could represent to men. Repetitive patterns such as long drives, cheap dinners and monotonous chores capture the hard limits of this farming community’s life. Dern and Williams evoke a despondency through their determination; the awareness that at one time they could have had more, but now feel stuck.
Though beautifully acted, these two storylines do feel slight, and are overshadowed by the final act in which Jamie pursues Beth. The characters’ youth and the chemistry between Stewart’s dishevelled ambition and Jamie’s wide-eyed romanticism give this thread a hope and heart that’s absent from the other, overly subtle narratives. However, gender expectations play out here too. As Jamie imitates masculine ideas of how to woo women, will she undo or amplify the power shared between her and Beth?
Shot in the greys and browns of the area’s native sandstone, Reichardt’s film captures the rough grittiness of these woman’s lives, as well as the occasional glistening of something akin to diamonds.