A sculptor’s inner life: Michelle Williams in Kelly Reichardt’s ‘Showing Up’ 2

Film · Reviews

I was entranced by the generically titled, but otherwise awfully good example of ‘slow cinema,’ Showing Up, directed by down-to-earth filmmaker Kelly Reichardt. This movie, opening April 7, is made by a woman artist; it concerns a woman artist, who is played by Michelle Williams, one of the foremost actresses of our time, in her fourth collaboration with the filmmaker. Reichardt stages her film in a mundane universe recognizable to all; it depicts the daily life of a klatch of privileged, guilty, neurotic, ambitious, frustrated Americans living in Portland. Within these perimeters — family, friends, job, and community — Lizzy struggles.

Williams plays a repressed, suppressed, mousy downer whose day job as an arts-college administrator gives her time and resources to pursue her craft and passion: sculpting. She disappears into the hands-on process of creating ceramic statuary of, primarily, women. When we meet her, Lizzy is prepping for a one-woman gallery show. The clock is ticking in a way that any creative person working on deadline can relate to.

Lizzy is an unusual character for a movie: she’s quiet, nearly obsequious, repressed, and tight-lipped. She puts up with a lot … more than she should. No idiot, she’s also angry. The director peels the Lizzy onion at a remarkably slow tempo, and over time illustrates Lizzy’s conundrum. Her bitchy, self-involved landlady/fellow artist/friend, Jo (Hong Chao), sucks the air out of the room. Her mother (who works in the same office) never got over her own divorce; her brother is far along the spectrum; her father (Judd Hirsch, in a character role), equally, cannot say no to a pair of aging-hippie freeloaders who are ‘occupying’ (this is Portland) his living room couch. (One of them is played by Amanda Plummer no less.)

But … her art! That is Lizzy’s happy place — even if ‘happy’ is not an actual Lizzy personality trait. Making art is where she is involved, at peace, engaged. Relaying all those quiet emotions, Williams, as Lizzy, tweaks and twists her statuary into dynamic, even extreme, positions she herself cannot embody. She’s a stiff — but look what’s inside her!

Showing Up was a nominee for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022. I highly recommend it, particularly for women in the arts for whom it will resonate. Many of you read artsmeme.

As it happens, on March 21-30, those in Los Angeles can take advantage of a Kelly Reichardt retrospective hosted by the American Cinematheque, to include in-person introductions and Q&As for the celebrated films Old River, River of Grass, Wendy and Lucy, Night Moves, as well as Showing Up. Reichardt’s debut feature, River of Grass (1994), marked her entry into the independent filmmaker scene with its depiction of a working-class couple struggling to escape the environment in which Reichardt herself was raised. Her minimalist, Americana-infused style has been put to great effect in new arthouse classics such as Meek’s Cutoff (2010) and Certain Women (2016), which allegorize topics such as U.S. foreign policy and women’s rights through highly personal narratives surrounding intimate communities of characters.

Arts journalist Debra Levine founded artsmeme in 2008.

2 thoughts on “A sculptor’s inner life: Michelle Williams in Kelly Reichardt’s ‘Showing Up’

  1. debra levine Mar 21,2023 10:34 am

    Cynthia, that is AMAZING !! I am so thrilled you found my story. I love[d] your work. So intriguing. Debra Levine

  2. Cynthia Lahti Mar 21,2023 7:40 am

    Enjoyed this, especially the “look whats in side her” part! I am the artist whose artwork Lizzy makes in the film. More of my art can be found at cynthialahti.com

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