In “Showing Up,” Michelle Williams stars as Lizzy, a Portland-based sculptor for whom little seems to happen in the week leading up to a major solo exhibition. Kelly Reichardt’s latest film takes us to present-day Portland for a playful comedy about the realities of visual artists.
As Lizzy, Williams is frazzled and grumpy, stern and edgy. She greets the compliments with a downcast gaze, perhaps doubting she’s worthy of them. She lives alone with a very good bad cat, working on figurines of young women, while her colleagues drink and hang out during their off hours.
As a day job, she works at an art school she attended as an assistant to her mother (Maryann Plunkett, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), from whom she has to ask for days off. time off to work on his art, while his father (the great Judd Hirsch) entertains guests he barely knows. Her brother Sean (John Magaro, “First Cow”) lives a sheltered life alone, sometimes causing family worries and tensions, as only Lizzy takes it upon herself to be his caretaker (needed or not).
It might prove a tolerable existence for Lizzy if she weren’t inundated with the success and zest for life from her neighbor, friend, former classmate, and now owner, Jo, played with deft humor by Hong Chau. For Jo, everything is easy: making art, making friends, making love. As the owner, she is spatial and inattentive – Lizzy’s lack of hot water is a growing concern – too busy living her life, working on her textile installations. In every way, Jo is shown to be the opposite of Lizzy, but the two women are bound to each other, years of affection unite them, even if they annoy each other.
It’s a relatively intrigue-laden image for Reichardt, whose films are often slower-paced or more meditative, but “Showing Up” is full of his trademark tongue-in-cheek humor. Its collection of on-screen artists is both earnest and humble, making the most of their small-town art scene. Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney fame served as a scout, giving the film an authentic, lived-in feel, whether on leafy Lizzy Street or the now defunct Oregon College of Art and Craft.
Long after the success of “Portlandia,” we have a more serious glimpse of a niche community in Portland, complete with idiosyncrasies and canvas tote bags, bohemians, teachers, and activists. Rounding out the cast are other Reichardt staples (including James Le Gros, who played Williams’ husband in “Certain Women”) alongside other character actors, like André Benjamin (also known as André 3000) and Theo Taplitz (“Little Men”), the latter playing a friend of the family. Not to mention a very prominent pigeon overall.
Never since “Amadeus” has there been a film so grounded in the realities of work and artistic creation, and all the torture and pleasure that comes with such a profession. Indeed, Lizzy and Jo’s relationship resembles a Crocs-based “Amadeus,” a tale of professional jealousy and artistic camaraderie in a world that feels very much its own, though the two artists make different contributions. and substantial to their scene.
Lizzy’s sculptures are figurines by Cynthia Lahti, and Jo’s installations are the work of Michelle Segre, but Williams and Chau have mastered the craft necessary to sell their figures to the public. It’s this craft that keeps them together: Lizzy and Jo rightfully respect each other’s work, no matter what separates them as people.
“Showing Up” may be Reichardt’s most grounded and less impressionistic film, but it’s still more than thoughtful, enjoyable and beautiful. Under the watchful eye of its regular cinematographer, Christopher Blauvelt, Portland is a lush metropolis, with cozy, tchotchke-rich apartments and dew-covered lawns. And the Lizzy/Lahti sculptures are colorful and distinctive: painted girls in a variety of poses, the pleats of their skirts made with a plastic fork, their necks supporting the weight of an inch to shrink them.
Much like Reichardt’s films, Lizzy’s work reflects true individualism. It’s easy to root for her (Lizzy, but also Reichardt), piquant as she is, because the sculptures mean so much to her. In a cinematic landscape full of product and content, “Showing Up” is a refreshing work of art, lovingly crafted and proudly displayed.
“Showing Up” makes its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.