Michelle Williams looks for artistic inspiration in 'Showing Up'
Slice of life films can often be the hardest to get right. It’s relatively simple to tell a story with a concrete beginning, middle, and end, but one where the characters just exist with no inciting event or big story arc require a certain kind of skill.
Minimalist writer/director Kelly Reichardt is back with another of her films where not much happens, Showing Up. Michelle Williams, making her fourth collaboration with Reichardt, stars as Lizzy, an artist who works in watercolor and clay. She helps to run a kind of artist collective/school that lets members/students engage in any medium they like.
A sad-seeming person in general, Lizzy has a list of annoyances that range from small to big. Her neighbor/landlord/fellow artist Jo (Hong Chau) never seems to fix her hot water, a pigeon mauled by her cat, Ricky – with whom she has a love/hate relationship – becomes unexpectedly important for her, and her upcoming show of small-scale sculptures is weighing heavily on her.
Those who like the visual arts will probably get the most enjoyment out of the film, as Reichardt and co-writer Jonathan Raymond devote plenty of time toward showing the process of artists and the minutiae of their work. The focus is mostly on Lizzy’s clay figures, rough-looking representations of people over which she obsesses when she’s not dealing with myriad other issues.
Though not put forth in a typical manner, the film is a family drama of sorts, as Lizzy works with her mom, Jean (Maryann Plunkett), and has tenuous relationships with both her dad, Bill (Judd Hirsch) and brother, Sean (John Magaro). She clearly wants the approval of all three, and the varying level of engagement from the trio with herself and her work doesn’t help her mindset.
This is one of Reichardt’s lightest works, as the characters shown are leading relatively carefree lives. Not everything goes as planned for people in the story, but the problems they run into are all small-scale and resolved easily, if at all. If anything, Lizzy’s constant down mood – she even has a haggard look to her, with bags under her eyes – is at odds with the untroubled outlook possessed by most other characters.
The film has three actors who were nominated at the most recent Oscars, but don’t go looking for showiness. Williams, last seen putting on a polarizing performance in The Fabelmans (where, funnily enough, Hirsch also played a relative), is low-key here, which works well for the character. The other actors are similarly understated, but all are enjoyable in his or her own way.
Showing Up is an apt title, as that’s all it seems was asked of almost everyone in the film. It’s a pleasant time at the movies with professionals who know how to do their jobs, but don’t expect it to stick with you long after you leave the theater.
Showing Up is now playing in select theaters.