Originally published on CommonSpace.
Certain Women follows certain women doing certain things. Laura Dern’s Laura has been putting up with a client’s protestations for eight months, believing he’s been ripped off by a settlement; Michelle Williams’ Gina is undermined and undervalued despite leading the way with plans to build a home for her family; Lily Gladstone’s Jamie is a lone rancher who attends a night class about school law taught by Kristen Stewart’s Beth.
That is, in essence, it – this is a chilly slowburn with shots of landscapes throughout that are as still as the movement of the film. Like a painting, Certain Women wants you to feel more than think, despite the first two strands having plenty to say about the way women are treated in the workplace and in the family unit.
Laura is never taken as seriously as she ought to be, and her client treats her like both a partner and a mother. Gina is the brains behind the operation and the glue holding her family together, with no acknowledgements of gratitude and just as much help.
It’s the third strand about Jamie and Beth that shines. It’s tough to supress the notion that the whole film should have revolved around the unspoken space between these two characters.
Everything exists in subtext, and it’s a credit to Gladstone and Stewart that these scenes are so captivating when next to nothing happens. Gladstone in particular is magnetic – her repetitive routine at the ranch is mundane, and there are a few too many shots of her on the commute, but there’s a sense she could be watching paint dry and it’d be impossible to look away.
Everything that happens in Certain Women could be summed up in the space of a single tweet, so its success relies upon a connection between film and viewer. That’s even riskier when it’s a film split into three strands, asking not only for a single connection, but multiple.
The first two are cold and clinical; relatable and provoking, sure, but the feelings that last past the credits are all in that final strand, making the run up worth the wait.