Review by Sean Boelman
Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt makes some of the most humanistic dramas there are, often in genres that aren’t known for their humanism. Her latest, Showing Up, seems to have a premise that would lend itself to an art industry satire, but in typical Reichardt fashion, is a poignant and profound meditation on family, creation, and other themes.
The movie follows an artist who, in the time leading up to her new show, must balance her creative and personal lives as she also nurtures an injured pigeon back to health. Like so many of Reichardt’s films, it’s a story that’s slightly weird and seemingly not all that compelling, but Reichardt has such a keen eye for humanity that it ends up being absolutely riveting.
Kelly Reichardt is known as one of the most prominent filmmakers in “slow cinema,” so cinephiles will certainly expect the pacing of the movie to be very patient. However, there is a dry funniness to this film — particularly for those who are more intimately acquainted with the art world — that makes it a bit more buoyant and less somber than some of her other work.
Of course, even though the movie is slowly paced, it is utterly transfixing thanks to Reichardt’s extraordinary command of her craft. Showing Up boasts what is unquestionably some of the finest cinematography of the year, from Reichardt’s regular collaborator Christopher Blauvelt, which is one of the few utilizations of artificial film grain that actually works. The score is also fantastic, including some lovely flute work by André Benjamin (who also has a small supporting role in the movie).
What a viewer gets out of this film depends on how much they are willing to get on Reichardt’s artistic wavelength. Although the parallelisms she is drawing are clear — between the protagonist caring for the injured bird and her experiences with her own family — there are many more layers to be dissected here.
Indeed, Showing Up ends up feeling like one of Reichardt’s more personal movies because of how it relates to her own identity as an artist. Although the film is set in the world of studio art rather than filmmaking, the commentary that Reichardt has to offer on artistic expression is still resonant across mediums.
One of the more surprising things about this movie is Michelle Williams’s performance, which is uncharacteristically restrained. She’s still exceptional, of course, but it’s nice to see someone who is known for their big and showy turns to do something that is much more subtle and quiet. Hong Chau is also pretty brilliant here, giving a performance that is both funny and quietly poignant.
Showing Up is another wonderful film from the masterful Kelly Reichardt. Although its subdued nature is likely to put off impatient viewers, and is unlikely to win over new fans, those who are already initiated into the ways of the filmmaker will certainly find this to be in the upper echelon of her filmography.
Showing Up is now playing in theaters.