2016; adapted and directed by Kelly Reichardt; 107 mins
Despite having been aware of her work for ages, it wasn’t until earlier this year, I finally checked out Kelly Reichardt‘s work with Wendy and Lucy, a harsh but heartfelt tale about a woman drifter (Michelle Williams) who has nothing and gets that taken away from her too.
Here, we have three tales of working American women, based on a book of short stories by Maile Meloy, starting with small town lawyer, Laura (Laura Dern) and her time dealing with an erratic client (Jared Harris). The second story is of mum, Gina (Williams again), looking to get hold of some disused sandstone from an older gentleman (Rene Auberjonois) for a new home whilst dealing with a slightly useless husband (James Le Gros) and a shitty teenager (Sara Rodier). The final story tells of a lonely, unnamed Rancher (Lily Gladstone) who forms an attachment to her exhausted night school teacher (Kristen Stewart) who also happens to also be a lawyer in the arse-end of a far off town.
It’s great to have a film like this that is one of the few telling stories about lower class Americans (as seems to be Reichardt’s thing in general). The vast, bleakly beautiful plains and small industrial towns of Montana create a neat environment to contain these intersecting local tales of people trying and failing to make connections.
Reichardt is a modern master of minimalist storytelling and camera direction. Her sense of composition is particularly amazing since she seems to create the shots in the existing locations with nothing appearing to be placed strategically to enhance the shot. She also uses the light on location in a way that is harsh but subtle and adds to the overall look being the perfect midpoint between Robby Müller’s intentionally ugly work on Dead Man and all those films that end up fetishising grit and urban decay in a way that borders on stupidity. Also, this is an odd thing to pick on but if you do see the film, look at how she uses car lights to enhance a few shots.
The actors acquit themselves in a way that fits perfectly with the quiet nature of the stories but with all due respect to the rest of the cast, the performance that stands out by a country mile is that of Lily Gladstone as the Rancher. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do so much by doing so little! She is the main character of her story and yet she seems to say less than anybody else but with the slightest of gestures and expressions, she absolutely grips us and draws us in to her longing. On that note, without wishing to seem po-faced, I assumed at first that she was in love with Kristen Stewart’s character but does the film necessarily tell that story? It portrays The Rancher as utterly alone and so maybe she just is thrilled to know someone her own age and make a connection as a friend. Either way, it’s beautifully done in a way that creeps up on you so that by the end you really give a shit and Gladstone’s performance may be one of the performances of the year! If there’s any justice in the world, she’ll be one of the next big things…
If I have any issues, one is that that title makes you realise the virtues of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Maniac Cop. I really want people to see this film and I worry that it’s title won’t get bums on seats. I see why it’s called that but the name of a film is where I start to agree with whore-y producers who just wanna pack ’em in. Also, the transitions between stories are a bit abrupt, although, I’m perfectly willing to accept on appeal that that’s just me being slow.
I’ve made this all sound very worthy but there are laughs in there, particularly a tense negotiation with an armed man and his hostage that ends up with them discussing the hostage’s possible royal Samoan inheritance. Try also to catch the shot when Michelle Williams does the best wife-pissed-off-at-husband reaction that we’ve all seen many times before.