Certain Women seldom talks but sure says a lot. Not only in the stories of three women living in Montana, but the way in which their stories unfold – and how the filmmaker chooses to resolve them. Long drives in the middle of the night, a morning jog, patiently waiting alone in a room – there are a myriad of these contemplative, seemingly serene moments in Kelly Reichardt’s powerful drama.
This quiet, at times uncomfortable drama moves in and out of the lives of a trio of different women navigating professional and personal difficulties out in the American west.
In one act, Laura (Laura Dern) deals with a traumatized client (Jared Harris) who doesn’t quite believe her lawful counsel following a workplace accident, for some reason. She is sleeping with a married man, who may be fixing things with his wife, so there is that. And eventually her client snaps, breaks into his former office with a gun, takes files, and a hostage. Laura is summoned to diffuse the situation.
Elsewhere, Gina (Michelle Williams) runs a construction company and a family – the husband will look familiar – and the includes a potential client who doesn’t quite grasp her professional position (for some reason) and a petulant daughter.
Lastly, Elizabeth (Kristen Stewart), a recently law school grad, works full time but also travels four hours two days a week to teach a class in order to make enough money to survive. Her session is attended by a curious and lonely rancher (Lily Gladstone), who spends her days only with animals. A sweet and awkward friendship develops.
These stories are as much about what happens as what doesn’t. However dramatic the situations – a standoff at gunpoint, a family and business strained, falling in love – they neither proceed as we have come to see them on screen nor do they end up how we imagine. That’s of course because these characters are women, and so is the writer, which is not to say this is how all women operate of course, but instead it’s more representative of their world. Angst and frustration aren’t verbally or physically expressed – in part because it’s so common for these women but also because no one would really care or do anything about it. They have agency and resolve.
Problems are solved independently then, without fanfare, and without escalation. The stories Reichardt’s presents are slightly intertwined, but more importantly, each have contentious moments are all seem matter of fact, as characters deal with family, work, and love in a way that is mature and tough. Certain Women isn’t exactly an easy watch – much is observational and slow, and with reason – but it is surely though a fascinating one.