“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 film, 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