Certain Women has cinematically achieved something that is typically a difficult task. The film tells the stories of four women in three tales, stories that appear to be barely woven together yet they are, and each character brings the rawness of what it’s like to be a woman in a difficult situation. Like the subtle feminist theme, these struggles aren’t blatantly obvious ones: No one has a grave illness, and there are no soap-opera level events that are barely believable. This film does not distract with massive cliffhangers, your jaw won’t drop in disbelief, and you won’t jump out of your seat in shock.
No, Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women does something more profound. Reichardt illustrates three struggles every woman has either experienced or feared to experience on their own, yet it does so in such a poetic way, you’re left feeling like you’ve just witnessed something special. With the leads perfectly cast as Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Michelle Williams, I can certainly call this fall’s best feminist film.
Set in picturesque Montana, the film starts with the life of Laura Wells (Laura Dern), a small town lawyer, just leaving the bed of her married lover (you’ll learn more on that later) and setting off to once again try to convince a client (Jared Harris of Mad Men) that he still stands no chance of a victory in court after being injured at his job as a construction worker. The most potential to go off on shocking drama comes with Laura’s storyline, as her client breaks into her office at night, holding the custodian as his hostage, and demanding to see old paperwork from his case. Reichardt had written it so you feel the real anxiety and emotions of both characters, rather than the heart-stopping intensity of a typical cinematic hostage situation, and it pays off.
We then shift to the story of Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams). Gina is married with a teenage daughter, and she is on the hunt to get what she needs to build her dream home from the ground up. She may be overcompensating for the love she craves from the daughter she often argues with and the distracted husband with rising tension. In doing so, she loses sight of the empathy she maybe once possessed as she exploited an elderly friend of the family to get his vintage sandstone, caring more about respecting her new home than humans.
The third story is the one I find most compelling. Beth (Kristen Stewart) is a recent law school graduate who gets a teaching job at an adult education center in a neighborhood several hours from her own. She immediately gets the attention of Jamie (Lily Gladstone), a Native American ranch hand who attends her class. It seems as though Beth notices Jamie’s feelings — it’s impossible not to — yet she is either too naive or too selfish to stop leading her on. Jamie literally and heartbreakingly goes miles to reach out to Beth, and Gladstone has achieved a breakout performance that will be talked about for a long time.
With the power of storytelling, Reichardt shows us the absolute power of being human.
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