To say that Kelly Reichardt’s movies are an experience is apropos. Her “eye,” or camera, tends to remain steady; the action on screen happens within the frame as the eye gently yaws through the commotion. Perceptibly, the camera never moves, yet we’re aware of the motion because of that commotion, thus creating the experience. Reichardt’s latest experience is Showing Up, now in theaters.
Showing Up is the story of Lizzy, played by Michelle Williams, a struggling artist on the verge of making her breakthrough. Williams’ quiet performance throughout the story is sublime, bordering on rote – the character runs through her everyday life as if everything is wrong, and she wouldn’t be too far off the mark: Hong Chau (The Whale) co-stars as Jo, Lizzy’s next door neighbor and landlord. Jo has everything going on for her, and Lizzy feels like she is left in Jo’s dust as they both work to complete their showcases.
Reichardt and co-screenwriter Jon Raymond (Meek’s Cutoff, Night Moves, Mildred Pierce) aren’t interested in solving Lizzy’s ills immediately, to the story’s credit. Instead, through Williams’ expert performance, we are treated to a tactile feeling, a warmth within the emotional vapidness created through the character’s friction with others in her life, simply because she won’t stand up for herself, leading to brilliant and quiet comedic moments.
Lizzy’s journey starts with an injured bird having been found by her cat in the middle of the night; the bird becomes a symbol for the audience to be able to experience Lizzy’s life at that point, which happens to be on the verge of a breakdown, owing to her feeling as if she cannot complete her exhibition.
Adding to her woes is a broken water heater, a mom Jean (Maryann Plunkett), being so absorbed in her world that she can’t see her daughter struggling, a brother Sean (John Magaro), on the verge of his breakdown, and a father, Bill (Judd Hirsch, The Fabelmans), who is interested in being more bohemian in his retirement than what’s going on in his own, broken family.
As strongly defined as the characters are within the frames, Showing Up runs the risk of being too steady. Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt’s camera has the presence of mind to capture life through a window while offering an unexpected warmth; the artistry and craft speak for their selves. Yet, the dramedy works specifically through Williams’ performance. Lizzy’s complicity through her inability to stand up for herself breathes a quiet life into Showing Up.
Similarly, Reichardt’s self-editing puts the character study in a good position, tightening the tactile feeling Williams leaves us with as Lizzy. Admittedly, Showing Up was akin to watching paint dry, yet life doesn’t move at the quickened pacing of a Marvel movie. Sometimes we need to sit back and let life’s foibles happen, whether we created a situation out of our inabilities or other’s abilities. And that’s Showing Up‘s gift.
Showing Up requires patience, patience that the audience might give to their family and friends. Life today is so fractured that we become as self-absorbed as the characters that Reichardt presents us with. I became enamored with Reichardt’s style with Certain Women, in which, as the end credits rolled and the house lights came up was profanely vocal about what we’d just watched. I wanted to turn around and explain the movie to the filmgoer; however, that isn’t what a critic does. Instead, we watch moving images flow on the screen. Whether the images pitch or yaw, we roll with it, much like life before us.
That’s Kelly Reichardt’s genius in Showing Up.