Film Review: CERTAIN WOMEN (USA 2016) ***

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certain_womenThe lives of three women intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail.

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Writers: Kelly Reichardt (screenplay), Maile Meloy (based on stories by)
Stars: Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern

Review by Gilbert Seah

CERTAIN WOMEN tells three different stories about women, the common thread that the stories, among another things are set in Montana. Unlike films with many stories, writer/director Kelly Reichardt (WENDY AND LUCY, OLDJOY, MEEK’S CUTOFF) does not intercut the stories into one narrative but rather tells each story on its own, one after another. The advantage of this strategy (and the one I prefer) is that the continuity of each story is un-compromised.

The first story involves a female lawyer, Laura (Laura Dern) defusing a hostage situation and calming her disgruntled client (Jared Harris). The second has a married couple (Michelle Williams and James Le Gros) breaking ground on a new home but exposing marital fissures when they try to persuade an elderly man to sell his stockpile of sandstone. The third and final story is of a ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) forming an attachment to a young lawyer (Kristen Stewart), who inadvertently finds herself teaching a twice-weekly adult education class, four hours from her home. These are independent women whose lives finally intersect in a powerful way. These stories are based on short stories from Maile Meloy’s collection Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It.

Reichardt ’s films have a strong feminine content. This is not a bad thing if done right. Reichardt demonstrates the feminine content in a clever subtle as evident in the first story. The first story begins with the female lawyer, Laura after a lunch time love-making in a rented room. The two are never shown together. She is seen in the bedroom while he is the bathroom. When he enters the bedroom, his figure is shown in the mirror. Never once do the male and female appear on he same side of the screen. The male and female are distinct, they have different roles in each story and Reichardt emphasizes the female roles.

Often in films with a strong female content by a female director, the male characters are depicted as silly or spineless. Thankfully, this is not the case in CERTAIN WOMEN. If the males have to answer to the female, there is a least a legitimate reason. In the first story, the lawyer’s client (Jared Harris) has made an error and has suffered severe mental, physical and financial loss. When he breaks down crying (a crying male is too often used in a female director’s film to show that they too have sensitivity), it illustrates at least, a credible state of affairs.

The female characters are all involved with the typical male roles in society. Laura Dern is a lawyer, who ends up as a hostage negotiator. Michelle Williams makes the family decisions especially on the construction of their new house to buy sandstones from an elderly gentleman. The husband admits too, to the old gent in on scene that she is the boss.

Women films are strong this month with the release of both CERTAIN WOMEN at TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Hollywood comedy SNATCHED on Mother’s Day



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