Kelly Reichardt’s latest movie Certain Women follows three woman, whose lives intersect, albeit only in the vaguest of ways, as they live their lives in rural Montana.
We pick up with Laura Dern’s Laura Wells, a lawyer conducting an illicit affair during her lunch breaks and trying desperately to persuade longterm client Fuller (Jared Harris) that his claim against his ex-employers is invalid because he has already taken a settlement. Laura arranges for a meeting with a (male) personal injury specialist and is aghast when the same information delivered to Fuller by a man is taken on face value. Things don't end there though and soon Laura is having to deal with a hostage situation.
Meanwhile, Michelle Williams’ Gina Lewis is attempting to manage her husband and stroppy teenage daughter as they build their ‘authentic’ dream house. Negotiating the sale of some local ‘authentic’ limestone with befuddled local man Albert (Rene Auberjonois) is an arduous task made worse by her husband’s lack of input.
Finally we meet Jamie (Lily Gladstone), a lonesome woman who looks after horses by day and finds herself wandering into a legal class taught by Kristen Stewart’s Beth at night. Beth is driving four hours each way to teach the class and Jamie soon befriends her.
Reichardt’s wonderfully realised theme across the first two tales isn’t just that these are strong women getting on with it, they are also strong women who men think absolutely nothing of putting in harm’s way (Laura) and making into the bad guy to ease their conscience (Gina). If the first two stories follow this path, it’s probably the third strand that really stands out. Gladstone is brilliant as the taciturn Jamie and her twice weekly encounter with Beth is heartbreaking. It’s never exactly clear if Beth feels the same for Jamie but it’s always clear that Jamie is looking at the relationship from a very different, lonely place.
With bleakly beautiful photography, outstanding performances (Harris is also great as the pathetic, beaten Fuller) and perfectly realised characters, Certain Women is an emotional ride. But it’s Reichardt’s subtle and moving script, adapted from Maile Meloy’s short stories that wins the day here. Thoughtful and carefully constructed, it’s easy to feel close to these women but, crucially never to feel sorry for them or feel like they are doing something extraordinary. And if Jamie’s story doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, then bah you.