Showing Up (A24, R)

Kelly Reichardt is basically the Quentin Tarantino of quiet, contemplative character studies. By that I mean that pretty much everyone who’s seen her entire filmography has films of hers they love and films of hers that just don’t measure up. Showing Up unfortunately falls into the latter category for me, even though there are a few things I can appreciate about it.

Longtime Reichardt muse Michelle Williams always gives a committed and endearing performance whenever she’s on screen, and her work here as Lizzy is no exception. Lizzy is a quiet, yet somewhat neurotic sculptor who works by day at an artists’ college. At her job, she’s constantly up against the unspoken quarrels of her dysfunctional family, given that her mother is her boss. At home, she often butts heads with her landlord, fellow artist Jo (Hong Chau), who not only won’t replace her water heater but verges on flaunting her more successful career in the local arts scene.

As we learn more about Lizzy, we learn her parents are separated (Judd Hirsch plays her happy-go-lucky father quite amusingly) and her brother Sean (John Magaro) is living a lonely, largely unproductive life due to his own neuroses. For all the comedy Hirsch and Magaro provide, their contributions never add up to anything more than mild amusement because the film is stuffed with so much dead air. It’s like opening a bag of your favorite chips and realizing that not only is the amount of chips in the bag insultingly small, the chips themselves are tinier than bite-size.

Showing Up’s problem isn’t that it couldn’t have been interesting, it’s that it frequently refuses to be interesting. I adored Reichardt’s last two films, Certain Women and First Cow, because they were indeed quiet but they were also jam-packed with brilliant moments of subtle character development and ingenious direction. They felt like they had a truer Reichardt stamp than this film does. Showing Up still explores some of Reichardt’s pet themes — petty competition, self-expression; families, friendships, and potential romance — but it lacks the spark many of her films have. Gone are the romantic zest of Certain Women and the bubbling tension of Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves. Here, we’re watching someone paint some below-average small sculptures, but we might as well be watching paint dry.

The peak of the film is Lizzy’s long-anticipated gallery show. Here, the gently comedic friction building within Lizzy’s family comes to a head, but even this is quite minor, and it comes off limper than most sitcoms. There are trademark Reichardt moments in there, moments of behavioral study and admirably realistic dialogue, but they just don’t add up to much of anything at all.

I really liked the idea of the very end of the film. Slight spoiler warning: Lizzy and Jo neatly fall back into a friendly rhythm after a near-disaster strikes at Lizzy’s show. Partly due to this sequence, I think there’s an interesting feminist take on this film that I would very much like to read. Like I’ve said, the film certainly has its moments. It’s just that I personally didn’t find anything to transcend the copious quietude here like I’ve found in numerous other Reichardt films. If you’ve never seen one of her films before, I’d recommend starting with Certain Women. That’s a movie I’ll show up for again and again.| George Napper

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