Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Showing Up’ Heals Your Soul


Director: Kelly Reichardt

Writers: Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt

Stars: Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, Andre 3000

Synopsis: A sculptor preparing to open a new show tries to work amidst the daily dramas of family and friends.


Watching a Kelly Reichardt film is a refreshing experience purely based on her minimalist style. While her last film, the “udderly” entertaining First Cow, focused on working-class characters, dreary skies, and a rusting setting, her latest film focuses on blue-collar academics and artists working to find their voice and make their mark on the world. Many will find her style a slow churn, but watching a Reichardt film is like leaving the city for the country on a quick holiday. In a world filled with bombastic movie franchises coming out this month, like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Fast Ten, her film Showing Up’s relaxed pace is a big breath of fresh air that’s good for the soul.

Reichardt co-wrote the script, along with long-time collaborator Jonathan Raymond, and it is filled with neurotic characters but avoids clichés by stripping down the neurosis and internalizing anxiety and depression instead of having every character wear them on their sleeves. Those characters include Lizzy (Michelle Williams), a sculptor embarking on a career-defining exhibition of her work but can’t take a hot shower because her landlord Jo (Hong Chau), isn’t able to afford to fix the water heater. Her manic-depressive brother Sean (Joe Magaro) goes months without talking to his family. Her divorced parents (Maryann Plunkett and Judd Hirsch) bicker whenever they are in the same room together.

The performances are lovely and filled with Reichardt disciples. This is Michelle Williams’ fourth film with the director, after working on Meek’s Cutoff, Wendy and Lucy, and Certain Women. The great actress takes over a character’s persona so well that they hide in plain sight. That’s what Williams does here; she is so unrecognizable even though she’s on the screen before you because she fully and thoroughly inhabits a quietly suffering character. There are very few actors in the world who can immerse themselves that inhabit a role like Williams. I’d bet the average film fan wouldn’t be able to recognize her.

The same goes for Hong Chau, who has had quite a year with an Oscar nomination for The Whale and being cast in the uber-popular Netflix series, The Night Agent. No matter the material, There’s no role she doesn’t immerse herself in. Here, you notice her character’s relaxed and carefree demeanor, which serves as an antonym to Lizzy and gets under your skin. Mind you, not because of any intense dislike, but because she can live her life without regret, something that Lizzy cannot. The always terrific Magaro, the star of First Cow, is relegated to a glorified cameo but is compelling here as the family outcast. Magaro is an outstanding performer who stands out in any role, regardless of its size. The handful of scenes shows how short the distance can be between true creative genius and major mental health disorders.

You may be surprised that this film is labeled as a comedy because it lacks laughs, and the movie will be more challenging than most for audiences to digest. However, Showing Up is an understated drama about healing. Most artists have tortured souls for one reason or another, and you’ll find glimpses of that in the characters. A subplot of Lizzy and Jo tending to a pigeon’s health serves as a metaphor for what is happening around the main character. Reichardt aims to examine how solemn or eccentric artists self-soothe through their work and the world around them. By caring for someone or something else, Lizzy learns to treat herself with love and compassion in order to heal.

As we said, Showing Up is good for the soul.

 

Grade: B

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