Director Kelly Reichardt’s new film Showing Up is a slice-of-life film filled with beautiful artwork that ponders relationships, art, and a pigeon. Michelle Williams – a frequent collaborator with Reichardt – plays the lead, Lizzy, who is preparing her sculptures for her upcoming show. In the meantime, she’s struggling with her friend and landlord Jo, played brilliantly by Hong Chau, who is dragging her feet on fixing the hot water because she has her own art show coming up. As if the everyday stress of work, art, and relationships isn’t enough, Lizzy helps Jo with an injured pigeon, which becomes an interesting parallel to Lizzy.
Williams gives a quiet performance that is impactful and mostly understated. Her character struggles to stand up for herself, and she has a hard time getting respect. This is evident in her interactions with Jo early on, but only becomes further emphasized by the relationships with her disjointed family. She works with her mother, played by Maryann Plunkett, and the coldness in their interactions implies that disconnect. John Magaro plays her brother and shows signs of a person in crisis, especially when he expresses concern that his neighbors are blocking his favorite TV channel from reaching his antenna. Then, her father – with Judd Hirsch cast expertly in the role – is clearly lonely, as he takes in two strangers as house guests while seemingly keeping his kids as a distance. Each relationship gives insight into Lizzie’s character and is exceptionally realized in Williams’s performance.
It is her relationship with the pigeon over the course of the film that has the most to mind. Her initial interaction with it is not pleasant, to the point where she doesn’t even want to touch it. Despite this, she slowly forms a bond with it. There is an emotional disconnect at first, where it is more about addressing the tasks: cleaning the paper, filling the hot water bottle, and checking the bandages. Eventually, we see her start to move past the facade of caring out of a sense of responsibility to truly express love. There is a lot about humanity embedded in this story.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a plot-driven movie. Reichardt is an extremely capable storyteller and gives a deadline to this story early on. Nonetheless, the movie is much more concerned with its characters than the plot. It’s about what drives them and what matters to them, far more than each action leading to another. Some may find this approach to feel sleight or boring. That was not my experience, as each scene captivated me through the performances within the film. However, I could tell from my contemporaries in the theater that not all had the same interest in the events on screen.
Showing Up is an exceptional and worthwhile study for any fan of Reichardt and character-driven cinema. Those looking for a plot-driven story or bombastic blockbuster will likely be left wanting their time and/or money back. Fortunately for me, it was exactly what I was looking for.
Showing Up releases Select Theaters on April 7th and goes wide starting April 21.
Rating: Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy