Review: “Certain Women”

Posted by Michael Parsons on November 25, 2016 in / No Comments


“Certain Women” has no particular plot — a loosely adjoined adaptation of short stories by author Maile Meloy that yields good performances, as expected by Laura Dern and Michelle Williams. It is tailored for  pensive audiences  yet designed seemingly to be forgotten. It’s atmosphere begins to lose oxygen after the first 40 minutes or so, to be partially resuscitated  by Lily Gladstone in the final piece.

Even when it feels like it’s going nowhere, at least the film’s lucidity remains in tact. Premise(s): Dern plays a lawyer with a mentally unbalanced client (Jared Harris), and is sleeping with Grizzly Man James Le Gros, husband of a somewhat disenchanted Michelle Williams. Le Gros’s character is kind of a schlub, per the indiscretion that links to Dern’s character (among various other reasons). There’s no ostensible purpose for this tenuous connection, other than to suggest that the stories might tie together somehow at some point.

Screenwriter/director Kelly Reichardt’s film turns out to be an anthology, though, of exactly what it is says it is, chronicling the lives of very different but relatively ordinary Montana women. Dern’s opening act has the most momentum, propelled by the notion of sexism in an effective, light-handed fashion, also serving up what looks like it should be the film’s climax (i.e, the most exciting it will get). The story of Ryan and Gina (Le Gros and Williams) makes up the saggy middle portion of the f21cb0d8c1e80d5949daa025c028e8c7film, in which the couple trek to acquire sandstone from an old man to use for their future home, now a tentative campsite where they live with their understandably disgruntled  teenage daughter. What does this segment have to say? To me, not much.

“Certain Women” doesn’t rely much on the Y chromosome, even though Jared Harris  gives a terrific performance as a down-on-his luck contractor. The ensemble is good; It’s worth a watch for Lily Gladstone as a lonesome rancher who develops a quiet infatuation for an education  law teacher played by Kristen Stewart. (Stewart has grown on my since her performance in “Still Alice”, and I was hoping for a little more here).

The script is a little frustrating, in the end. If satisfaction is to be had, it’s in appreciating the parts rather than the sum; I’ll lobby for Gladstone for  a supporting actress contender, and  Reichardt (who also edited) and DP Christopher Blauvelt make some beautiful things happen on-screen. The snow-dusted Montana landscape plays a big part, as you might imagine, in addition to a supporting cast of horses and one very adorable Welsh Corgi.

– M. Parsons


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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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