“Certain Women” showcases Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Michelle Williams

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There’s always something nice to be found when a bigger actor or actress continues to come back and work with the more independently minded filmmakers that helped launch them. In the case of Michelle Williams, she continually teams back up with writer/director Kelly Reichardt, with their latest collaboration being the drama Certain Women, which opens this week. They also bring on other strong actresses, though this time they have one of their best yet in Kristen Stewart, who is just terrific here, along with Laura Dern. Reichardt is a bit of an acquired taste for sure, and this is possibly one of her slowest films yet, but the acting is unimpeachable.

The movie is a look at a quartet of women in a small Montana town and how their lives intersect in small ways, spread out over three segments. One concerns Laura Wells (Dern), a lawyer dealing with a disgruntled client Fuller (Jared Harris) who eventually ends up in a hostage situation. Another centers on Gina Lewis (Williams) and her husband Ryan (James Le Gros) as they break ground on a new house. Their union is stressed as they work convince an old man to make a sale to them of a sandstone stockpile. The third segment brings together ranch hand Jamie (Lily Gladstone) and young lawyer Beth Travis (Stewart), as the former becomes attached to the latter while sitting in on her adult education class. Reichardt directs and writes the adaptation of some short stories by Maile Meloy. Also in the cast are Rene Auberjonois, John Getz, James Jordan, Edelen McWilliams, and more. Christopher Blauvelt provides the cinematography here, which does capture rural America quite well.

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I’m not wild about this flick, but I do really like the acting on display. Gladstone might actually be best in show, while Dern, Stewart, and Williams are excellent. The combination of Gladstone and Stewart makes for the best segment, while the other two are far more flawed. The first one, with Dern and Harris, is fine, but Williams’ one is pretty rough, sadly. The actresses do what they can with the material, but Reichardt meanders far more than she usually does. It’s clearly one of her lesser works overall, even if there’s a ton of good acting to be found within. The established stars do the consistently good work you expect, while Gladstone is quite the discovery.

Awards wise, this feels like an independent player only at certain precursors, but anything is possible. If it winds up hitting in a bigger way than expected, look for campaigns to be launched in Best Picture, Best Director (for Reichardt), Best Actress/Best Supporting Actress (for Dern, Gladstone, Stewart, and Williams), and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Reichardt as well). Stewart is building towards an Oscar nomination, perhaps even this year in Supporting Actress, though that’s far more likely to be for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk or even Cafe Society. Contention here for anybody will be very much a long shot, but I suppose we can’t count anything out of the picture just yet.

All things told, on Friday audiences have a very indie option to consider with Certain Women. Fans of what Reichardt usually does will probably find this a worthwhile endeavor, though I’ll caution that there’s less to found than normal. Something like Wendy & Lucy, this is not. That being said, Dern, Gladstone, Stewart, and Williams all more than pull their weight, so if you’re just looking for strong acting and a certain mood, this could do the trick. Depending on what your art house options are, this is something you might want to consider. I didn’t love it, but I don’t regret seeing it one bit. Make of that what you will…

Be sure to check out Certain Women, opening in limited release this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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