Film Review: Showing Up
Director: Kelly Reichardt
In Theaters: 04.28
Art reflects life, and films about artists are often flashy and highly dramatized tales of turbulent, glamorous lives. Showing Up is not that kind of movie, and Kelly Reichardt is not that kind of filmmaker.
Lizzy (Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island) is a sculptor in Portland who creates ceramic figures in her garage studio. As she prepares for a gallery show, Lizzy must contend with a lack of hot water in the apartment that she rents from a neighbor and fellow artist, Jo (Hong Chau, The Menu, The Whale), who seems to have no intention of rectifying the situation and acts put upon whenever Lizzy asks about it. Lizzy must also contend with her concern for her brother, Sean (John Magaro, First Cow, 18 ½), who refuses to confront his mental health issues.
Then, there are her divorced and combating parents (Judd Hirsch and Maryann Plunkett) and a wounded pigeon who was attacked by Lizzy’s cat and must be nursed back to health. The show approaches, and juggling the doldrums of daily life makes it increasingly hard for for Lizzy to focus on her craft. As her frustrations build, she can only try her best to channel them into her sculptures.
Showing Up is a quiet, introspective and insightful film in the best tradition of Reichardt’s finely honed style. Fans of Wendy and Lucy or First Cow will know that Reichardt favors leisurely, deliberate pacing as she weaves the prosaic aspects of daily existence into a larger tapestry real and relatable stories and characters. Showing Up carries a strong sense of melancholy as the weight of Lizzy’s daily grind portrays a wonderfully subtle humor and pathos.
Lizzy struggles for her voice to be heard by condescending parents, her paranoid brother and her self-involved friends as much as she struggles for the audience who sees her art to understand her expression. There’s a strong “elephant of metaphor” in the wounded and frightened pigeon who may or may not fly again. Despite Lizzy’s initial reluctance to care for it, she soon bonds with the pigeon and considers it the most relatable figure in her life.
Williams is coming off of a career-defining performance as Steven Speilberg’s mother in The Fabelmans. In reteaming with her longtime collaborator Reichardt, she’s found a perfect follow up that gives a completely different character who is no less interesting. Lizzy’s obsessive devotion and connection to her art—when she accidentally pulls the arm of off a sculpture, she offers humanizing apologies to it—are hilarious and poignantly recognizable to anyone who toils away at creative self expression.
Chau, who has been in a dearth of great films while giving an abundance of great performances, is pure gold. She plays Jo with charm and vibrance. Magaro, one of the great underrated actors of our time, is funny, sympathetic and surprisingly dignified as the troubled Sean. One of the great strengths of Reichardt’s direction is her minimalist approach to musical underscoring, letting the actors’ body language and expressions, as well as both the quiet stillness and the everyday sounds of the city, set the tone throughout the film.
Showing Up is a small, personal and introspective work of art about creating small, personal and introspective works of art while the doldrums of daily life weigh down on you. It’s a terrific film and a welcome new entry in the filmography of a unique and beautiful voice. –Patrick Gibbs
Read more on the films referenced in this review:
Film Review: The Fabelmans
Interview: The Politics, Corruption and Comedy of 18½
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