Movie Review: Certain Women
By Tanner Bidish, Contributor
[Stage 6; 2016]
Kelly Reichardt takes the creative helm as director, screenwriter and editor with her latest work, Certain Women. Set in small town Montana, the film features three narratives that look into the lives of three different working class women.
The vignette style of Certain Women comes from being adapted from Maile Meloy’s collection of short stories, Both Ways is the Only Way I Want it. Unconventional narrative format meets conventional camera work and editing for a movie that feels lacking, despite the effort to tackle important social issues.
The first narrative revolves around Laura (Laura Dern), a lawyer who struggles with men not taking her seriously. This is echoed in the following vignette, in which Gina (Michelle Williams) tries to gather building materials and keep her marriage together. The third story follows Jamie (Lily Gladstone) as she tries to fill the painful loneliness in her life.
The process of going through the stories is jarring as an audience member. There’s nothing in way of transition between them, and even if this is a deliberate choice it doesn’t payoff. Thematically, Laura and Gina’s stories are very similar. It’d make more sense to separate them with Jamie’s, but because they’re back to back they lose some emotive drive. Ending on Jamie’s story of isolation is emotionally draining and unsatisfying.
The camera work is safe in Certain Women. There are a few long takes, but they don’t stand out as narratively or symbolically significant. Would-be dramatic situations are played down to be calm by opting out of suspenseful editing or an impactful use of score. The strongest element of Certain Women is definitely its well-written script and the leading performances from Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart, who plays Jamie’s love interest.
The themes are important throughout Certain Women. It’s intersectional in the identities of its characters, and gives a voice to struggles that are neglected in mainstream cinema. But it doesn’t stand out as an easily digestible work. The sequencing of the stories would operate better as Laura, Jamie, then Gina. The vignette style would also work better with more plots, and a stronger tie in at the end. Certain Women is strong politically but weak cinematographically. Ultimately, it leaves a feeling of being unimpressed.