Movie Review - Certain Women

Kelly Reichardt adapted the collection of short stories called Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy. The collection of stories was named one of "10 Best Books of 2009," according to the New York Times. What Reichardt has done is something brilliant. The short story that opens the book is the last depicted in the film. Reichardt doesn't tell all the short stories in the book, just three. That opening story tells the tale of Beth and Chet. Beth is a law school graduate who works at a small firm in western Montana and who commutes hours every night to teach a class in eastern Montana. Chet is a rancher in eastern Montana who happens into the class and develops a crush on Beth. What Reichardt does that's brilliant is she makes Chet not a boy but a girl.

Lily Gladstone co-stars as "Chet," the lonely horse-rancher. In the film, we never really learn her name. She never identifies herself out loud. Yet, if you are familiar with the book, she has the Chet role. The recent Doctor Strange had a gender-bending role where Tilda Swinton played a role originally written to be a man. Between the two films, this movie does the better job because instead of diminishing a minority, Reichardt emboldens and enriches one. Gladstone is Blackfoot Native American.

Meloy's book wasn't exclusively all stories about women, but that's what Reichardt's movie chooses to take from it. The story of the horse-rancher might have the potential for a lesbian romance, but Reichardt's vision transcends just sexuality. Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria and Twilight) plays Beth, the aforementioned, law school student who lives in Livingston, a beautiful girl. Gladstone's character isn't just lusting after her. As a horse-rancher, she has a daily routine that we see her repeat over and over. Being with Beth could simply be a break from a seeming monotony, but it goes further and Reichardt taps into loneliness and the desperation that some people, and some women can feel.

For Reichardt, these stories present an opportunity to give us portraits or in reality snapshots of people we don't normally see with special spotlight on a select few women. Other than Gladstone, a standout is Laura Dern (Jurassic Park and Wild) who stars as Laura Wells, a small-town lawyer in or near Livingston, Montana, who is having an affair and who is dealing with a very frustrated client. Yet, Reichardt is not sexist. It's not all about the women's lives. Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Mad Men) who plays Will Fuller, the so-called frustrated client, is provided a window to see into his heart and soul. There's even some comic relief in a hostage situation, involving a Samoan prince whose brief scene provides a window into his experience.

The third story involves Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain and Blue Valentine) who plays Gina, a woman who's married and has a teenage daughter. She's attempting to build a home. They have the land and a base where a tent is set up, along with basic utilities but the frame or wood isn't up yet. Gina takes her husband, Ryan, played by James Le Gros (Ally McBeal and Mildred Pierce), and her daughter Guthrie to visit an old man named Albert, played by Rene Auberjonois (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Boston Legal). She wants to buy some sand stones that have been sitting on his property for years. She wants to use it as part of her new house. Albert is clearly a widower who has some mental or memory problems. While there were some interesting things at play, it's the least of the three stories. I'm not sure what the ultimate takeaway is. It's the least dramatic, and there are obvious things not addressed.

The third story, which is actually the middle story, becomes just a buffer that fills out the feature length. Dern and Gladstone are the real reasons to watch this effort. Williams has worked with Reichardt before in better roles. Wendy and Lucy (2008) and Meek's Cutoff (2010) are their previous works together and represent better uses of Williams as an actress. Yet, she's fine here.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 47 mins.


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