by Hope Madden
Visual poet of the day-to-day Kelly Reichardt returns to screens this weekend with a look at art as well as craft in her dramedy, Showing Up.
Michelle Williams is Lizzy, a sculptor who’s not getting enough done for her upcoming show. It’s a small show in a small gallery not exactly downtown, but it’s a show and she’s got a lot of work left to do.
So does Jo (Hong Chau, one of three 2023 Oscar nominees in the cast!), Lizzy’s neighbor and landlord. In fact, Jo has two shows coming up, so who knows when she’ll be able to fix Lizzy’s water heater?
And just like that, Reichardt leaches the glamour from the art world, dropping us instead into a place far from glitzy but bewilderingly human.
Williams is characteristically amazing, her performance as much a piece of physical acting as verbal. You know Lizzy by looking at her, at the way she stands, the way she responds to requests for coffee or work, the way she reacts to compliments about her work, the way she sighs. Williams’s performance is as much in what she does not say as what she does, and the honesty in that performance generates most of the film’s comic moments.
Chau knocks it out of the park yet again, and like Williams, she presents the character of Jo as much in her physical action as in her dialog. The chemistry between the two is truly amazing, simultaneously combative and accepting, or maybe just resigned to each other.
Reichardt’s phenomenal cast does not stop there: Judd Hirsch (irascible and hilarious), John Magaro (sad with an undercurrent of potential danger), Andre Benjamin (chilling), Maryann Plunkett (frustrated) and Amanda Plummer (weird, naturally).
As is so often the case, the environment itself is its own character, every gorgeously mundane detail filmed in Reichardt’s go-to 16mm film. She and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt once again find the grace and beauty in the spots everyone else ignores.
Like Nicole Holofcener and Claire Denis, Reichardt invests her attention in the small moments rather than delivering a tidy, obvious structure. The result feels messy, like life, with lengths of anxiety and unease punctuated by small triumphs.