Certain Women

Loverboy’s Corinna Tomrley goes to the movies to swoon over Kristen Stewart but instead falls for the woman who is yearning for KStew in the magnificently subtle Certain Women.

I often espouse and lament a golden age of 90s independent cinema as one massively underrated (generally) and very much missed (by me). Back then I went to tons of films a week (you could afford to then) or caught things on the telly (they showed decent and obscure stuff then) that were just wonderful, profound, getting under your skin type films. They were cinematic offerings passionately made that stayed in your mind, stuck to your soul for decades after. And if you mention them now? Only a fraction might be remembered by those who were around then. Those who weren’t (damned millennials. And whatever collective noun it was before them) have never heard of the films, the actors, the auteurs. What they’ve missed!

Every now and then something comes along that reminds me of this golden era. That feels like that cinematic moment. Something so considered yet so universally honest… something that sticks to your soul.

One such film is Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women.

I could say that in this film nothing really happens. Oh, in the beginning something really major does happen, it couldn’t be more ‘action’, in that sense. But, on the whole, nothing really does. But this is not a film about plot, a pat-narrative. This is a film about women. And it’s a film about the extremely subtle but impactful interactions and intersections, the connections and disconnections, in the lives of these women.

Purely, the film is in three parts about three women. Laura (Laura Dern), Gina (Michelle Williams) and The Rancher (Lily Gladstone). But because this film wants to pull in some people they’ve put Kristin Stewart on one of the posters instead of Lily Gladstone, and listed her before Gladstone in the cast list. But that part is very much The Rancher’s story. And OH MY GOD. That part of the film. It’s all wrenching, beautifully sad, gorgeously subtle, but this story of a rancher falling for KStew’s night school teacher is epic. Yet so lightly told… and it’s this lightness of touch from the writing, direction, acting, editing, sound, that really makes this film a fantastic thing.

KStew is great – don’t get me wrong. As usual. And HOT. And in this film full of incredibly underplayed characters her underplaying style of acting was made for it. But, in fact, she is almost gregarious compared to Gladstone whose slightest flicker of the eye or mouth speak volumes of emotion. Anyone who is painfully shy in situations of the heart will recognize the minutiae and have a pretty good idea of the agony and ecstasy going on behind that subtle visage. Likewise, Laura Dern is exceptional (that woman just gets better and better as she gets older) in her role of a harassed small town lawyer. Michelle Williams (also fab) perhaps has the ‘smallest’ role, not in screen time but in what happens (or doesn’t) in her story. But we are there, we are inside these women. We know. Or at least we have a pretty good idea of what’s going on inside them with the most minimal of external expression offered us. And that is the beauty of the way their worlds have been allowed to be depicted by all involved.

The screenplay is an adaptation of short stories (by Maile Meloy) and that makes so much sense. Short stories don’t follow the same conventions in storytelling, you don’t have to have a ‘conclusion’, a driven plot. Hell, novels don’t. That’s why so many adaptations end up with the film changing the ending to something conclusive, something ‘happier’ or at least more ‘satisfying’. Cinema that doesn’t bow to that, that follows the inconclusive, the unanswered, the plotlessness of literary fiction is still rare and can still stun in its beauty when done well.

Kelly Reichardt not only co-wrote and directed Certain Women but edited it as well. When I saw that credit flash up at the start of the film I was intrigued – so many editors are women. There must be something to write about there… another time… but a director keeping the reins of their editing is not usual. Yeah, they often have a lot of input but editing is its own beast. And the pace of this film, its visual language and the marrying of image to sound is immaculately conceived. Not that an editor couldn’t do that – it’s their art. But there’s something about Reichardt keeping hold of those reins, steering her beast into the paddock… oh I’ll stop with the metaphors because this film certainly doesn’t need them. Montana (or wherever this is) seems awesome and isolating. Beautiful and bleak. And the small stories of these women’s lives that unfurl before us over the span of this movie echo all this and more. I’ll remember this film for a very, very long time.

Certain Women is in UK cinemas from 3 March