Showing Up, 2023.
Directed by Kelly Reichardt.
Starring Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, Maryann Plunkett, John Magaro, Andre Benjamin, James Le Gros, Judd Hirsch, Todd-o-Phonic Todd, Lauren, Lakis, Denzel Rodriguez, Jean-Luc Boucherot, Ted Rooney, Heather Lawless, Ben Coonley, Chase Hawkins, Izabel Mar, Bahni Turpin, Holly Osborne, Ethan Benarroch, Hanna Caldwell, Matt Malloy, Amanda Plummer, Kevin-Michael Moore, Theo Taplitz, Mia Bonilla, Sam Kamerman, Libby Werbel, Eudora Peterson, Nova Kopp, Margaret Rodini, and Orianna Milne.
An artist on the verge of a career-changing exhibition navigates family, friends and colleagues in the lead-up to her show and finds that the chaos of life becomes the inspiration for more great art.
Early on in Kelly Reichardt’s Showing Up, sculptor Lizzie (Michelle Williams) talks to her boss and mom Jean (Maryann Plunkett) at the nearby Portland liberal arts college she does magazine work for, stressing about a meeting to furnish her pieces for an upcoming art installation. To be clear, there is no toxic workplace environment here, but there is something about the difficulty of which Lizzie has in simply finding the words to request a personal day to find some balance between her professional and personal life that is incredibly relevant right now, with those out of their minds demanding regular work week hours should be even longer when if anything they should be less.
Lizzie has a plethora of minor problems, such as broken water pipes ensuring she can’t take a shower (in nearly every frame she’s on screen, Michelle Williams looks frayed and frazzled, completely in character), some harmless beef against her landlord and artist friend Jo (Hong Chau, continuing to do great work, here with a delightfully quirky performance) for being so absorbed in her artistic endeavors that she hasn’t got around to fixing the cold water situation, and a lightweight dysfunctional family including a father (Judd Hirsch) letting random travelers that he insists are fascinating and wonderful people crash in his home to offset loneliness, and a quack brother named Sean (John Magaro) convinced that his neighbors are blocking his favorite television programs from coming into the TV (and yes this film takes place in the present day).
Then there’s Lizzie’s cat Ricky who decides to maul a pigeon one night, which our protagonist tosses outside since she is too busy to focus on. Inadvertently furthering this rivalry, Jo bandages up the pigeon and shows Lizzie, suggesting that she take the bird in and look after a while it recovers. After all, Jo is busy with her projects that generally go on to be more talked about despite her laid-back and relaxed approach towards things. More importantly, the injured pigeon stretches a cinematic metaphor until that bird dies or flies again.
The dry humor in Showing Up is often amusing, either mocking some of these carefree liberal arts sensibilities or homing in a goofy family deserving of their sitcom (there’s a scene involving cheese etiquette at one of the art shows that feels like something out of Seinfeld, just much more muted regarding the jokes). However, it’s tough to fully invest in this character and story, not just because there are such low stakes but also because its point seems to be made early on and repeated, becoming less and less subtle over time.
Fortunately, Kelly Reichardt (also writing the screenplay alongside Jonathan Raymond) is such an exceptional director when it comes to lingering on smaller details, such as the sculpting itself, and has crafted such a vibrantly colored art scene that takes its time wandering around campus and observing courses in art galleries, that there’s always something compelling on screen.
There’s a breezy quality in that slow pacing to Showing Up, especially since it is fixated on idiosyncratic characters and situations, although it comes in small doses and never rises beyond its overstated metaphors. It’s also a film that admirably encourages a healthier balance between work and personal fulfillment; sometimes, showing up simply means being present on what brings one joy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com