EIFF 2023: Showing Up

Kelly Reichardt reunites with her regular collaborator Michelle Williams for a melancholy comedy about the struggles of creativity

Film Review by Rory Doherty | 29 Aug 2023
  • Showing Up
Film title: Showing Up
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, Judd Hirsch, Maryann Plunkett, John Magaro, Heather Lawless, André Benjamin, James Le Gros, Lauren Lakis

Kelly Reichardt has made a career from mapping out entire worlds from the slight bursts of tension in everyday relationships. Showing Up, with its contemporary setting and focus on complicated interiority, feels in line with Old Joy and Certain Women, and here similar themes are elevated but given a nuanced spin: Is it possible to find poetry in the everyday, especially if every day is defined by being denied artistic fulfilment? Can we even be satisfied with purely humble ambitions?

Lizzy (Michelle Williams) is a sculptor and administrator for an arts college in Portland, Oregon, whose efforts to stage a gallery show are frustrated by apathetic colleagues, difficult family relationships, injured animals, and her own creative insecurities. Reichardt films are not known for showy performances, and Williams (a frequent Reichardt collaborator) wears Lizzy’s resentments, bitterness, and self-doubt with a quiet, simmering power. Jo (Hong Chau), a more successful, free-spirited artist, seems to be the source of a comical amount of our protagonist's grievances; Jo can’t seem to grasp Lizzy's needs, nor how much she’s asking from her (including rent – she’s Lizzy’s landlord).

Despite momentum faltering across the middle stretch, Reichardt’s treatise on creativity shines not in the attentive moments where Lizzy fine-tunes her sculptures, but rather when it shows how the conditions of creative labour can often turn us off from wanting to create. The film’s quietness allows for shades of bittersweet melancholy, before, in Reichardt’s trademark manner, blindsiding us with emotional grace and resonance. Finally, a film for people who guilt their friends into supporting their art.

Showing Up had its UK premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival