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What Women Want

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Nicole Rivelli/IFC Films

MOVIE REVIEW
Certain Women (2016)

Kelly Reichardt is starting to get deserved attention for her style of filmmaking, which is the quiet telling of ordinary working-class stories in western America from a woman’s point of view. Michelle Williams was the first big-name actress to realize what Ms. Reichardt was doing; they made “Wendy and Lucy” together in 2008, and then “Meek’s Cutoff” in 2011 – a historically accurate film about a lost group of settlers in 1840s Oregon. There is no one else making movies like hers in America now, and for that reason a lot more people are paying attention. With that attention, she has chosen to adapt three loosely-linked short stories by Maile Meloy about women in and around Livingston, Mont.

Laura (Laura Dern) and Beth (Kristen Stewart) are both lawyers, although they do not work together. Beth is just starting out, which means she’s been saddled with teaching an evening law class in a town an eight-hour round-trip away. A local rancher (Lily Gladstone) is so isolated at her winter job tending horses that she joins the class just for something to do. Afterward Beth grabs some food in the local diner, and while the rancher joins her she cannot afford to eat there herself; and Beth is so wrapped up in her own problems she doesn’t notice. Meanwhile Laura is dealing with a client, Fuller (an outstanding Jared Harris), who has lost everything after a head injury incurred due to negligence at his job. And further meanwhile, business owner Gina (Ms. Williams) and her husband Ryan (James LeGros) have bought some land outside town and are charming an isolated elderly neighbor (René Auberjonois) into selling them some stones from his property for the house they are planning. This section is the weakest, simply because the stakes are quite low, although the family sniping on its campsite rings exceedingly true to life.

The other sections are much more powerful; you absolutely understand Laura’s frustration with Fuller, and Fuller’s frustration with everything, including himself. He is a decent man who has lost everything through no fault of his own, and luckily in a small town where everyone knows each other already the system can be sympathetic. The landscape sure isn’t; Ms. Reichardt spends a lot of time filming people driving their cars in terrible weather, staring out at bleak, overcast, phenomenally gorgeous landscapes and feeling so lonely they could scream. Sometimes they do. These are people the world normally doesn’t pay much attention to. At one point the rancher tells Beth, “Animals be wondering where I’m at,” because that’s all she has to hang on to. Putting moments like that and lives like this on screen is what Ms. Reichardt does.

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