Showing Up

In her fourth feature with writer/director Kelly Reichardt, Michelle Williams plays Lizzy, a Portland, Oregon sculptor trying to finish her new work in time for her upcoming gallery show. In the meantime she is antagonized by her flaky landlord and fellow artist Jo (Hong Chau), her divorced parents (Maryann Plunkett and Judd Hirsch), her mentally ill brother (John Magaro), and her job at the fictitious Oregon College of Arts and Crafts. Oh, and she's also forced to care for a pigeon wounded by her ornery cat. The film spends a lot of time on that.

Showing Up is very much a slice-of-life: subtlety is the name of the game. Absent any dramatic monologues or emotional catharsis, we can only infer the depths of Lizzy's loneliness, ambition, and jealousy through her surface frustrations and general humorlessness. (She's really no fun to be around, and the pixie-like blonde Williams is almost unrecognizably dowdy in her mousy brown wig and shapeless wardrobe). Yet when her show finally opens – this isn't really a spoiler, since there's nothing to spoil – it's as though Reichardt and her characters knew the truth all along: Lizzy was simply stressed out about opening night, as any artist would be, and now everything's gonna be okay.

Reichardt specializes in deliberately-paced movies about Pacific Northwesterners, yet usually – and I haven't seen her most recent features First Cow and Certain Women – there is a palpable sense of desperation and loss at the heart of her quiet dramas. Although it's not what I'd call a breezy good time, Showing Up is much lighter than Reichardt's earlier work, and the stakes are so low that your attention may wane as mine did. Still, it's an authentic portrayal of daily life in and around a groovy arts and crafts college, if that's your thing.