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Dan Webster reviews "Showing Up"


My Movies 101 colleague Nathan Weinbender shared a story recently that says something telling about at least one portion of today’s brand of moviegoers. It came during a conversation we were having about Steven Spielberg’s 1993 movie Jurassic Park.

I can’t recall Nathan’s exact words, but the gist was this: following a revival screening of the film several years ago, he heard some younger moviegoers complaining. Their shared reaction: the movie was just too slow.

Too slow? Jurassic Park, one of the most successful summer blockbusters of all time? What has the world come to? Are we afflicted by societal attention-deficit disorder? When, for that matter, did I become a grumpy old man?

In any event, I wonder what those moviegoers would say about the films that Kelly Reichardt makes. Reichardt, of course, is the New York filmmaker who, since her 2006 film Old Joy, has been working almost exclusively in Oregon. And that includes her most recent film, Showing Up.

Set in a Portland art school, Showing Up stars Reichardt staple Michelle Williams as Lizzy, a sculptor who has a lot going on in her life. Nothing, though, seems to be fulfilling. She’s preparing for a one-woman show of her work, which is a collection of pieces representing women posed in a variety of shapes and positions, none of which seems particularly comforting.

But then, very little about Lizzy’s life seem comforting. Or comfortable. She lives in an apartment owned by her friend Jo (played by Hong Chau), whom she’s continually nagging because her apartment lacks hot water. She works at the school run by her mother (played by Maryann Plunkett), her mundane job requiring her to design flyers and catalogs for other artists.

Her family itself merely adds to her issues. Her father (played by Judd Hirsch) is a narcissistic, retired ceramicist who invites strangers to live in his house—a practice that both confounds and worries Lizzy. Her brother, Sean (played by John Magaro), is reputed to be the family’s real genius, though his declining mental condition is seemingly apparent to no one but Lizzy.

It's no wonder that Lizzy is as glum as she is, a fact that is underscored by Reichardt dressing her in a sadly styled wig and clothing likely purchased at a neighborhood thrift store—that and the fact that Williams smiles only once during the entire film, and even then only half-heartedly.

It makes for a bleak portrait of a character who considers herself an afterthought, especially by those who should support her the most. And whether you consider Lizzy’s art to be good, average or mediocre, you can’t say that it doesn’t reflect who she presents to the world: a person who wants to be appreciated, but who likely wouldn’t believe it if she were.

Showing Up mirrors several of Reichardt’s other films in theme, if not setting, by focusing on characters mired in various stages of desperation. This is the case whether she’s following a woman trying to recover her lost dog in 2008’s Wendy and Lucy, pioneers lost in the desert in 2010’s Meek’s Cutoff, characters trying to find their life’s purpose in 2016’s Certain Women or two guys struggling just to survive the harsh conditions of early 18th-century Oregon Territory in 2019’s First Cow.

And Reichardt, too, embodies a filmmaking style that could charitably be described as deliberate. Some, almost certainly the moviegoers that Nathan overheard, might even call it glacial. Which, compared to your standard movie made in 2023, would be an apt comparison.

But then sometimes it feels just right, such as when Lizzy carefully attaches hands to a figure that makes it seem as if this representation of a woman is asking for something. Maybe love. Maybe success. Maybe just acceptance.

Reichardt’s movies, then, clearly aren’t for everyone, especially not for a generation accustomed to the energy of, say, an Avengers release—much less Jurassic Park. But those with the requisite patience may discover that this particular movie has something important to communicate.

Finding joy, like the creation of art, is often just a matter of, well, showing up.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.


Movies 101 host Dan Webster writes about movies and more for

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