Certain Women (2016): Kelly Reichardt’s Fiercely Independent Feature, Starring

Fiercely indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt wrote, directed, and edited Certain Women, a quiet, subtle meditation about ordinary women, based on three short stories from Maile Meloy’s collections, “Half in Love” and “Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It.”

The film benefits immensely from its femme-driven ensemble, headed by Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, and Lily Gladstone, who are ably assisted with other gifted indie actors, James Le Gros and Jared Harris.

World premiering at the 2016 Sundance Film Fest, Certain Women was released by IFC Films, earning over $1 million domestically, thus becoming Reichardt’s most commercial film to date.

Having shot most of her features in Oregon, Reichardt wanted a different setting for a feature that intertwines Meloy’s Montana-based stories.  After scouting locations, she chose Livingston, rather than Meloy’s home town of Helena.

Exec-producer Todd Haynes notes that the images in Certain Women compartmentalize the women’s lives—the isolation and loneliness they feel—in spite of the fact that the stories deal with relationships. Reichardt accomplishes this by emphasizing door-frames, windows, mirrors and architectural structures to fragment her characters within the frame.

With the exception of one scene that uses a musical score, Reichardt relies on location sounds, incorporating wind and train whistles into the overall sound design.

In the first tale, Laura (Laura Dern) leaves an unfulfilling meeting with her lover Ryan (James LeGros), only to be confronted with client Fuller (Jared Harris), who’s trying to sue the contractors who allowed him to be injured on the job. Laura takes him to Billings for a second opinion, and he hears again that he’s got no case,  a frustrating situation that turns violent.

Ryan, meanwhile, is married to Gina (Michelle Williams), and the two are building a house in the countryside. She wants to buy a heap of weathered sandstone from local landowner Albert (Rene Auberjonois) but gets frustrated with Ryan.

The daily drudgery of Jamie (Lily Gladstone) at a horse farm gets a reprieve with the sudden appearance of Beth (Kristen Stewart), a young attorney who’s teaching a class in “School Law” to the local teachers.

Beth has to drive four hours each way, but Jamie joins her for dinner at the local truck stop each night before she has to drive back. Jamie’s affection for Beth takes a surprising turn

Gladstone has the open, expressive face of a silent film star, and she beams in the presence of Stewart, herself providing another understated and heartfelt performance.

All the performances are solid, if deliberately understated.  The four actresses, especially Gladstone, make the most of Reichard’s penchant for creating the right mood with few words and long silences that convey lives at their quietest and most ordinary.