REVIEW: Michelle Williams displays sculptor’s inner life 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.

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Charming ‘Moving On’ cast has celebratory premiere-party

Film · Reviews
the great lily tomlin

The new comedy from Roadside Attractions, produced, written, and directed by Paul Weitz (About a Boy; executive producer of Pinocchio) concerns Claire (Jane Fonda) and Evelyn (Lily Tomlin), two estranged friends who meet at the funeral of a third. The two ladies cart decades of baggage — and its not by Louis Vuitton. It’s gnarly. But with wonderful oddball encounters staged in the most mundane of settings (an assisted living home, the carousel at Griffith Park, a bus stop), and speaking dialogue that can only be characterized as “crusty,” the quirky comedy manages to drive home a message. Claire is weighted down by a massive (valid) grudge — and she loses no screen time in sharing it. But the sage character played by Tomlin gives her good counsel, “Claire!” she urges. “Pay attention to your movie title! Move on! “

These female Mutt ‘n Jeffs (Fonda in a chic gray bob, Tomlin in a cute head of curls) act out the major message of this home-spun movie. And that seems to be: Don’t lose sight of the good in our lives while trying to prosecute the bad — even if the bad was a really bad, a damaging personal violation.

mr. mcdowell, mr. weitz

The ‘good’ in Claire’s life takes the form of Richard Rountree, an ex husband wanting to make amends. He cooks, has nice manners, a smart daughter, and two cute grandkids. He also looks very attractive in a bathrobe. Fonda plays ‘wound tight’ to a tee, and enjoys nice scenes of romantic-redux with Rountree. Rapid on the rubber-face reaction is Malcolm McDowell, who as part of his grieving process for his wife has to escape the various mousetraps Claire is setting for him. Tomlin’s liquid performance kind of oozes (in a good way) into gaps, cracks and crevices with her witty facial expressions and off-beat line readings. Her scenes with the movie’s prospective trans-kid played by Marcel Nahapetian are adorable and feel real.

The film is a testimony in truth-telling between this passel of people. A kind of contemporary parlor drama (it actually has a scene staged in a parlor) Moving On delves into those tense moments between friends where you feel the ‘ouch’ and the annoyance gets acted out. You’ll see people at least trying to be honest with each other — McDowell’s character excepted.

I’d go to see Moving On just for its top-line stars. But this well-cast movie is also populated by an array of character actors in memorable set ups and scenes. It was fun, on Wednesday night, to watch them in action on screen, then mix and mingle with the real people afterward. The pleasure in the house was palpable as the actors could revel in the sound of out-loud laughter to their rather screwy screwball dialogue.

A darling, strange, if uneven, film … recommended. Moving On in theaters now.

Arts journalist Debra Levine founded artsmeme in 2008.

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Charles Lloyd’s ecstatic melody on his 85th

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Film · Reviews
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Reviews · Theater
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Within her delicacy, strength: Raven Wilkinson appreciated 1

Raven Wilkinson (1935-2018) broke as rigid a color barrier as could be found in the mid-fifties, when she was hired, in 1955, to join the all-white corps de ballet of Sergei Denham’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She went on to dance with the Dutch National Ballet as a soloist, and (similar to Janet Collins, ...