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Showing Up ★★1/2

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Girl with a Broken Wing


In Director Kelly Reichardt’s latest of 9 features over 30 years, Michelle Williams is Lizzie, a depressive secretary for an art school and a sculptor off-hours. The 5 times Oscar-nominated Williams, who has starred in 5 of Reichardt’s films, has a wide range, and perhaps this role appealed to her because it shows off a part of her one doesn’t see in “Blue Valentine” (2010) or “The Fabelmans” (2022). With very few, very slight smiles on her face in the entire 107 minutes, her arms always at her sides, shoulders slumped, hair an unstyled mousy brown, Williams unrelentingly embodies Lizzie’s depression.

 

Perhaps this role appealed to Williams because it shows off a part of her one doesn’t see in “Blue Valentine” or “The Fabelmans."

 

No smiles, and not much of a plot either. Except for the pigeon. Reichardt employs the cliched pigeon metaphor—pigeons symbolize the vulnerability of the good and innocent—through the entire story. An injured pigeon. That (too obviously) could be Lizzie. “I’m bad,” she says early in the film, in relation to the pigeon, though she reluctantly takes charge of the damaged bird. This is no “On the Waterfront,” with Brando’s Terry Malloy tending to his pigeons on a Hoboken apartment roof. Unlike the 1954 masterpiece, the end of this film is just like the beginning; little has changed—not the characters, not their relationships to each other, not their lives.

 

Lizzie’s sculptures, small in size (her “girls”), are of women in dynamic poses—the antithesis of their maker.

 

There are echoes of “Frances Ha” in Lizzie’s existence. Like the title character of Noah Baumbach’s 2012 work featuring his partner, Greta Gerwig, Lizzie makes ends meet working as a secretary (and makes it obvious to all that she’s unhappy in the job) while sculpting on the side. Unlike Lizzie, Francis is upbeat, spunky, and comedic in her effort to develop her art. Lizzie’s sculptures, small in size (her “girls”), are of women in dynamic poses—arms raised, arms out, arms above their heads, dancing, twirling, running—the antithesis of their maker—and one of them is badly burned while being kiln-fired. Everything about Lizzie’s artistic life is cobbled together, mostly unrecognized, though when it is recognized, she doesn’t pursue the opportunity.

 

Reichardt and frequent co-writer Jonathan Raymond seem determined to avoid script turns that might induce the characters to confront their limits and weaknesses.

 

Lizzie’s landlady and neighbor Jo (Hong Chau, Oscar-nominated for her supporting role in “The Whale”) is an extrovert, contented and confident, her life full of friends. A recognized sculptor with enormous and colorful works, Jo has two shows opening soon. Add an emotionally distant mother who runs the art school (Maryann Plunkett), a bipolar brother (John Magaro), and an egoistic father (Judd Hirsch, twice Oscar-nominated), and one could envision a plot. But Reichardt and frequent co-writer Jonathan Raymond seem determined to avoid script turns that might induce the characters to confront their limits and weaknesses.



Reichardt is her own film editor too. If the story goes nowhere, the filming is everywhere. Settings are full of “stuff”—studios, apartments, art classes—all cluttered. Scenes move from one object-filled space to another, without any obvious narrative purpose. Inexplicable tracking shots are used from time to time, including one of Jo descending a ladder. The look of the film is needlessly busy, as if to compensate for a flat storyline.







 

The title “Showing Up” provides clues to the film’s meaning.

 

The title “Showing Up” provides clues to the film’s meaning. Artists often feel the obligation to show up at each other’s exhibits. Lizzie does not show up for Jo’s, though she explains to her neighbor that she saw it before it opened—classic introvert behavior. Whether anyone besides Dad and his 2 moocher companions will show up for Lizzie’s small exhibition provides a hint of tension. Mom resists “showing up” for her troubled son. David French’s recent op-ed in the New York Times on “being present” riffs on the theme that true friendship requires showing up for friends: “our simplest and highest command is merely being there.” Lizzie, in her way, shows up for the pigeon (much is made of a hot water bottle and of her stroking the pigeon’s head). A larger question Reichardt asks, albeit obliquely, is whether someone who is damaged and anti-social can still “show up” for others.


With 3 Oscar-nominated stars and an award-winning director capable of producing “First Cow,” which we deemed one of the best films of 2019, one could hope for more. Even so, “Showing Up” was nominated for the 2022 Palme d’Or at Cannes, and Williams has received kudos for her performance as Lizzie. A star playing against type often produces award nominations but does not in itself a good movie make. The director may be best at describing her work: “My movies,” she has said, “are about getting from here to there, but not in a grand way. I’m a pretty boring person. Life can be pretty small in Oregon.” Films about small lives—“Frances Ha,” “The Quiet Girl,” “Aftersun” (all reviewed in recent months)—can be fascinating. “Showing Up” isn’t one of them.

 

Date: 2023

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Starring: Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, Judd Hirsch, John Magaro, Maryann Plunkett

Country: United States

Language: English

Runtime: 107 minutes

Other Awards: 3 nominations to date

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