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Review: Showing Up

April 13, 2023

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The eighth feature from American indie auteur Kelly Reichardt, Showing Up is recognizably a part of her impressive oeuvre of slice-of-life films about ordinary people going about their lives in Oregon, while also adding some levity to it.

The film stars Michelle Williams as Lizzy, a struggling sculptor living in Portland who is preparing to show her work, with Reichardt simply dropping in to observe this character over one of the most chaotic weeks of her life.

Lizzy is trying to balance her job with finishing the ceramic pieces for her exhibit, but her responsibilities to other people keep piling up. She is involved in a feud with her landlady Jo (Hong Chau), a fellow visual artist preparing for her own exhibit who owns the old apartment building that Lizzy rents in, about the ongoing lack of hot water in her unit, with Jo waffling on getting it fixed.

There is an injured pigeon that Jo rescues after it is attacked by Lizzy’s cat, with the seemingly carefree Jo putting the bird in Lizzy’s care. Lizzy drops in on her aging father (Judd Hirsch), who has taken in a pair of drifters up from Canada who may or may not be taking advantage of him, and visits her brother Sean (John Magaro), who is also an artist and is experiencing paranoia.

The stakes are relatively small in the grand scheme of things, but feel major to these characters, as Reichardt lets us be the judge of how much of this, if anything, is meant as symbolism. The situations that Lizzy finds herself in often feel like they could fully descend into satire, farce, or screwball comedy, and there are vague hints of that throughout the film. But Reichardt keeps the entire thing balanced on feeling observational and believable, while also being laced with dry humour.

There is always something to observe in the director’s characteristic use of long takes and wide shots, and the characters are all interesting in their own ways and in their interactions together. The script by Reichardt and frequent collaborator Jonathan Raymond also offers a masterclass in revealing relevant information in a way that is naturally woven into the story, with every character feeling richly developed in the subtlest of ways, as if we are just dropping in on them already in the midst of their lives.

This is a quiet film that could rightly be classified as a work of so-called slow cinema, but it builds to a finale that unfolds with the quietist of intensities, as we keep waiting for something to break or someone to snap. Williams, in her fourth collaboration with Reichardt following Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff and Certain Women, is again completely on the director’s wavelength, delivering a performance that is impressive for its naturalistic subtlety.

Whether you consider this to be a major or slightly more minor work from her, Reichardt is a master at crafting these sorts of slice-of-life films, with a keen eye for simply observing her characters going about their lives. Showing Up is a worthy addition to her filmography that allows her to show a slightly lighter touch, while still feeling fully realized. What emerges is a modest but engaging film about the process of creating art in the midst of living a scattered life.

(L-R) Michelle Williams Credit: Photo by Allyson Riggs, Courtesy of A24

Showing Up is being released exclusively in limited release on April 14th, including at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. It’s being distributed in Canada by Sphere Films.

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