Writer-director Kelly Reichardt’s film “Certain Women,” which I saw at the 2016 New York Film Festival and now is in commercial release, examines the lives of three women in a rural Western area. It is based on short stories by Maile Meloy. The women are loosely tied together, and I found one story particularly compelling, the other two less so.
In the strongest part of the film, Kristen Stewart is lawyer Beth Travis, who struggles to teach a class related to the law with an odd group of adult students. One in the class, Lily Gladstone as Jamie, is clearly falling for her teacher. Jamie, works on a ranch, giving emphasis to her lifestyle, and Gladstone portrays her beautifully, with soulful eyes, and yearning reflected in her facial expressions.
She stalks Travis, admiringly not menacingly, and her infatuation is painfully clear. Travis has no interest in an affair with a woman, and Stewart’s acting makes her response sensitive rather that merely dismissive. There is much feeling injected into the characters and the situation, and director Reichardt displays great care in maintaining the right mood for the story to unfold.
In the opening segment, Laura Dern plays lawyer Laura Wells, who has a mess of a client, a disgruntled and saddened man named Fuller, played accordingly by Jared Harris. He is a potential menace to others and to himself as he talks about wanting to end his life.
Wells, who can be tough as well as understanding, does her best to represent him, and Dern gives an excellent performance highlighting the dilemma of an attorney who is wary of her client but determined to give him a proper defense. Suspense is created when the situation erupts.
Michelle Williams whose performances I often admire, has a rather bland role as Gina Lewis, who is having tensions with her husband, played by James Le Gros. They have a daughter, acted by Sara Rodier, who comes across as spoiled and rebellious.
The main action is concerned with the couple wanting to buy rocks from a property holder to use in the house being built. Yes, one can discern some meaning into the effort to blend contemporary needs with traditional history symbolized by the rocks, but the segment is at best, shall we say, rocky.
It is clear that Reichardt is trying to depict women with individuality, but save for the teacher-student relationship, the rest, while involving, is rather on the slim side. An IFC Films release. Reviewed October 15, 2016.