Synopsis: The lives of three women intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail.
Release Date: October 21, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Every once in a while, a movie will come along that seems to have little to no point, yet is still fascinating and enjoyable. Certain Women is one of these gems.
Certain Women is about a lawyer named Laura Wells (Jurassic Park‘s Laura Dern) who finds herself playing crisis negotiator when one of her clients (Jared Harris from The Quiet Ones) takes a security guard hostage. Meanwhile, it’s also about a young woman named Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams from My Week with Marilyn) who wants to buy a pile of sandstone from an old man (Rene Auberjonois from “Benson”) to build a house with her husband (Drugstore Cowboy‘s James Le Gros). And finally, it’s about a young lawyer named Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart from the Twilight movies) who, while teaching an educational law class for which she drives four hours each way, meets a ranch hand named Jamie (Winter in the Blood‘s Lily Gladstone) who becomes infatuated with her.
As you can probably tell from that synopsis, Certain Women is episodic in nature. You can also probably tell that not a whole lot happens in the movie. Inspired by a handful of short stories by Maile Meloy, Certain Women was written and directed by indie darling filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy), and it really reads like a slice-of-life piece about a few different women in rural Montana. The stories do intersect, but very subtly and inconsequentially; each section could very easily stand as its own short film or episode of a weekly television series without any help from the others.
Unless her whole aim is to present a trio of compelling little vignettes about independent women in different stages of life, what Reichardt is trying to say with Certain Women is unclear. That doesn’t make it any less entertaining, it just makes its audience question the very reason for its existence. It’s a well-made piece of cinematic art, there just seems to be very little purpose or focus to it.
Certain Women was shot on location in Montana, mostly near Helena, and cinematographer Christopher Bauvelt (The Bling Ring) does a good job at capturing the serenity and frigidity of the lonely area. Certain Women is full of slow, calm camera work, with moments that include long one-take shots of trains slowly winding their way through the mountains and lingering voyeuristic peeks at ranch hands caring for their horses. Certain Women is a deliberately paced, mellow movie, and Bauvelt’s long, smooth, static photography reinforces the treacherous tranquility of the location.
The sound in Certain Women is a perfect example of a less-is-more philosophy. The sound design was done by Skywalker Ranch hand Kent Sparling, but it could not be farther from a pew-pew Star Wars kind of thing. There is hardly any noticeable music for most of the film, with a slight score appearing about fifteen minutes from the end. Instead, Certain Women uses the natural, ambient noises of the world as a soundtrack; the viewer hears wind, trains, and car engines when the characters are outside, and fans, televisions, and radios when the action is indoors. It makes for moments of deafening silence where, like the characters, the audience is left seemingly alone with their thoughts. There’s a very powerful quiet at work within Certain Women, and it’s one of the reasons why the plot-light film is so uncomfortably engaging.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Kelly Reichardt
- Producer(s): Neil KoppVincent SavinoAnish Savjani
- Screenwriter(s): Kelly Reichardt
- Story: Maile Meloy
- Cast: Kristen Stewart (Beth Travis)Michelle Williams (Gina Lewis)Laura Dern (Laura Wells) Jared Harris (Fuller)James Le Gros (Ryan Lewis)Rene Auberjonois (Albert)Lily Gladstone (Jamie)John Getz (George Rowles)Sara Rodier (Guthrie Lewis)Ashlie Atkinson (Patty)James Jordan Mac)Matt McTighe (Tommy Carroll)
- Editor(s): Kelly Reichardt
- Cinematographer: Christopher Blauvelt
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: April Napier
- Casting Director(s): Mark BennettGayle Keller
- Music Score: Jeff Grace
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA