Directed by: Kelly Reichardt
Written by: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone, James Le Gros
Despite rank, position, and power, women fight an uphill battle in trying to get respect in a world designed to see them as supporters and not necessarily leaders. The beautiful artistry displayed in Certain Women allows us to look at four different perspectives of this struggle in such a dry and exasperating manner tangentially connected but all inextricably alike.
Laura Wells (Laura Dern) must talk sense to her unsatisfied client, Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams) tries to build her dream house, and Jamie (Lily Gladstone) randomly attends an educational law class taught by Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart). All four women progress through their days confronting the world put before them.
Split into three different narratives all slightly connected, the women in this film each have moments most female audience members can connect to. The moments of having their suggestions ignored, their male colleague given more credence, and looking for safety in an uncertain world. In some respect, many of the scenes portrayed in this film can be seen as a horror film with the realness of these moments. The sigh of disbelief of their situation says it all in each of these situations, as these women battle this constant battle for success.
Each of them live different lives, but they all carry positions traditionally held by men, which leaves them at a disadvantage. Laura works as a respected attorney and has had to plead with her client about him not having a case in his tort claim. She spends countless hours going over all of the information with him only for a male colleague to provide a second opinion and her client finally being satisfied. Gina wants to purchase sandstone from an older gentleman to build her dream house and she constantly gets ignored as the seller only has an interest in speaking with her husband. Beth travels four hours for a position she thought she needed to take because of the law degree she has acquired and Jamie lives on as a rancher. These positions have long been held by men, and these women do not get an ounce of respect in something where they have proven they can excel. Three of the four present those moments of dejection, but Jamie proves to be the most interesting of them all.
Her introduction to the story begins with scenes of her tending her horses and taking care of the ranch. She has a very cute corgi dog following her throughout. The routine becomes monotonous and she does not speak much until she randomly walks into the educational law class taught by Beth. Her classmates all happen to be teachers interested in learning more about their practice, but she sticks out. She sits in the back of the classroom, away from everyone, and just patiently waits. We never truly get into the head of this character but the brilliance of Lily Gladstone’s performance allows us to infer what this character processes in her mind. For Jamie’s sequence in the film, she displays a level of aimlessness, which appears to be impenetrable but just like every other segment of the feature, it all comes together in a particular moment.
As the title suggests, this film revolves around these women and all of the male characters appear to be a nuisance. For Laura, the male presence comes in the form of her client, who wants to battle the negligence of his employer, which caused him to be disabled. He came to her as a client for help yet does not accept the legal advice she provides him. A constant battle where she gets dragged into situations she dreads. Gina’s husband moves as a passive observer in their lives, failing to really discipline their daughter for being disrespectful to Gina and not supporting her when trying to purchase the sandstone. The looks Gina gives him in those moments are sharp enough to cause a cut. For Beth, it comes in the form of her teaching the law course. She begins the class by outlining education law about due process and instead of the teachers, sitting now as students, listening to her, they ask the questions they care to know about educational law. The men, if anything, hold these women back as they have to spend so much time trying to do something basic and the men fail to adhere.
Serving as the backdrop for the feature is the beautiful landscape of Montana. Through different towns where these characters reside, the setting becomes a character in the film because of the vastness of the area they live in. The film opens within the confines of Laura’s office and continually expands with each story to show the sheer size of this area. Taking place in the winter, the climate constantly looks cold and it comes through the screen because of the overall mood of these characters and their circumstances. Their dejection and disbelief of these circumstances contribute to this cold atmosphere, which makes Jamie such a standout. She provides a level of warmth in her presence, which melts away the frigid temperature.
As a filmmaker, Kelly Reichardt requires patience as she’s never in a rush to tell her stories. Her typically slow-moving films all have incredible payoffs, which carry a level of poignancy because of the pacing she utilizes with her features. She accomplishes something truly special in Certain Women because of the ferocity in her direction and editing. The way she cuts each scene has a distinct purpose and in a way, it becomes our ally. No scene proves this more than when Beth teaches the education law course. Right as she gets bombarded with useless questions, we cut away from the scene right in the middle of one of their inquiries. Reichardt saves us from the ridiculousness of these students. Everything comes together in a methodical manner, and this serves as her greatest work to date.
Incredibly poignant and something with the power to make you roll your eyes, Certain Women brings out the stories of four strong women just trying to get past the bullshit of men. It could be seen as a horror film, but each story has a terrific moment of catharsis, where they prove the power they have rightfully acquired. All four main actors carry the weight of their situations incredibly well and they’re aided by a tremendously unique filmmaker.