Every so often, I find myself wondering if I’ve been too hard on Kelly Reichardt.

At the time of release, I thought Meek’s Cutoff was an excruciating waste of time, a bloated and aggressively boring journey with characters too incompetent to be sympathetic. But as I’ve grown to be a wiser and more jaded film blogger, I’ve often thought about revisiting the film to see if I’d feel just as strongly today. And then I remember Night Moves, another film that everyone else seemed to love even as it left me lukewarm at best.

Then again, Reichardt is a local filmmaker. Well, she’s actually from Miami, but she’s shot enough films here that she’s an Oregonian whether anyone likes it or not. And anytime a filmmaker steps up to represent PDX, I will always give them a fair chance. And then Reichardt bores me to tears all over again.

Showing Up stars Michelle Williams as Lizzy, a sculptor who finally gets a shot at showing off her work in an exhibition. That’s it. That’s seriously the entire plot. We follow Lizzy for a week until her big show happens, then it comes and goes, roll credits.

Even as much as I disliked Reichardt’s prior work, at least Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves clearly had a crisis or a conflict to drive the plot forward. This has nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s a week in the life of Lizzy, in which nothing of any perceptible consequence happens.

Or maybe it does?

With any character — most especially the protagonist — the three most important questions are 1) What does the character want?, 2) What happens if they get it?, and 3) What happens if they don’t? In this case, I get that Lizzy is trying to find the time in her busy hectic schedule to get her exhibits ready for the big show, but it’s opaque as to what exactly that would look like. What is her benchmark for “success”? What does she hope to accomplish with this showing? For that matter, why does she sculpt, why is she sculpting what she is, and what grand artistic statement is she trying to convey?

None of this is explained. As such, it’s left frustratingly unclear as to why Lizzy wants any of this, or why we should emotionally invest in her journey at all. The ending is absolutely no help, as it doesn’t give the impression that anything has been resolved and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether Lizzy accomplished or failed whatever the hell she was going for with the exhibition.

But the potential is there.

Lizzy is clearly an artist who takes her work seriously. It’s a given thing that her own dedicated showcase is a big deal for her, of course she’d want her artwork to be at its most pristine, and it’s obvious that impressing the right people at this advance would be a huge step forward in her career. None of this is explicitly stated, but it can go unsaid because any audience member with common sense would know as much. Even so, it feels like I’m doing most of the work here. And it doesn’t tell me anything I couldn’t already guess about this particular protagonist’s motivation driving this particular story forward.

I might add that Lizzy herself is less than helpful. Living in a perpetual state of frazzled stress, Lizzy is so emotionally burnt out that it’s exceedingly difficult to get inside her head and figure out what exactly we’re supposed to be feeling. It’s a good thing Michelle Williams is a good enough actor to make something out of nothing, because nothing is pretty much all she’s got to work with here.

Likewise, we’ve got a whole cast full of wildly charismatic actors, all of whom are talented enough to give the impression of depth where none exists. Hong Chau plays Jo, Lizzy’s landlord/roommate/more successful colleague, the kind of irresponsible charmer who gets away with everything because she’s impossible to turn down for anything. Maryann Plunkett plays Lizzy’s boss who’s also her mother, while Judd Hirsch plays a retired potter who’s also Lizzy’s father. John Magaro shows up to play Sean, Lizzy’s brother, a mental case who might secretly be an artistic genius. Andre “3000” Benjamin shows up (and also contributes to the score), turning all his innate charisma to the task of firing Lizzy’s sculptures.

Oh, and I’d be remiss not to mention the stray pigeon who gets injured by Lizzy’s cat and taken in by Jo. So the both of them share custody of the pigeon and it’s a whole thing between them.

Each and every one of these characters has a potential development arc. And all of these actors are talented enough to give the illusion of an arc. But upon even the most basic inspection, every single one of these arcs either fails to launch or fails to land.

Then we have the visuals. In typical Reichardt style, we get shots that drag on for way too long, shots that don’t contribute anything to the story, and shots that only give the vague pretense of importance.

For instance, the movie is loaded from start to finish with brief shots of nameless characters engaged in their artistic endeavors. Here’s a shot of a nude model (played by an acquaintance of mine, by the way) in a life drawing class. Here’s a shot of actors running in a closet to make a weird kind of experimental film. Here’s a shot of people dying fabric. Isn’t it wonderful how there are so many ways to make art?

Yes it is, Kelly. TELL A STORY!!!

But then we have my own personal favorite example partway through the film, as we watch Lizzy reposition the arms on one of her statues. No close-ups to Lizzy’s face as she thinks through what she’s doing. No close-ups or camera angles to show how Lizzy’s fingers mold and shape the clay. This feels like it should be a shot to demonstrate the pride and joy that Lizzy has in her work, the care and deliberate choices she takes in making this statue just so. Instead, it’s a static full-body shot of the statue that keeps Lizzy herself out of frame. As with the rest of the film, Reichardt only shows us potential, with the expectation that we’ll do all the heavy lifting of figuring out the significance and character development and storytelling and whatnot.

Upon closer inspection of her IMDb page, I notice that Reichardt is also the listed editor for every single one of her feature films since 2006. This might be a huge part of the problem. Much as Reichardt might not want to hear it, she is in desperate fucking need of an editor. She needs somebody in post with the power to tell her when her shots go on for too long, which shots are unnecessary, and how to stitch shots together in a way that tells a coherent well-paced story.

I know I said I’d keep giving Reichardt a chance, and I will. I so badly want to like a filmmaker who’s done so much for my city, but I can’t for the life of me understand the appeal. If there’s anything noteworthy or novel about Showing Up, it went clear over my head. I don’t know what movie the critics are seeing, but I only saw a pretentious pile of wasted potential with no point or plot or pacing.

The best I can say for this movie is that at least it was only boring, while Meek’s Cutoff was actively infuriating. And it’s gotten to the point where I can’t be upset with Reichardt for shoving her head so firmly up her own ass, because it would be unreasonable to expect anything else. This one’s a hard pass.


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