Showing Up review — Kelly Reichardt’s indie spirit reemerges

Directed by Kelly Reichardt | Written by Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond | 107 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | Carbon Arc Cinema  

The corner of American indie cinema that Reichardt comfortably inhabits is akin to indie folk rock of the early 2000s — entirely lo-fi and earnest and in no hurry to get where it’s going. I haven’t loved all her movies but I have all the time in the world for her cinematic voice, so determined to tell the stories of ordinary people. She first worked with Oscar-nominated Michelle Williams on her fourth film, Wendy and Lucy, in 2008 — which happened to be the first of her movies I watched, already 14 years into her career as a director. Her last feature, First Cow, was a critical darling. I liked it, too.

This time she’s set her film in a robust creative community in Portland, Oregon. Lizzy (Williams again) is a sculptor a few days out from a show, but is a ball of introverted anxiety. Her landlady, Jo (also Oscar-nominated, Hong Chau), happens to be a visual artist, except she’s got two shows opening this week. Lizzy’s annoyed with Jo because her apartment hasn’t had hot water for days. Lizzy’s annoyed, generally.

Adding to her grief is that her orange cat, Ricky, attacked a pigeon. She saves the bird and releases it, but Jo finds it injured and fobs its care on Lizzy much to Lizzy’s chagrin even though, really, it should be her responsibility.

Those are the stakes, folks. A bird with a broken wing, an art show, and hot water. Not much happens, but that shouldn’t surprise you. What fascinates is the film’s exploration of the creative effort — the work itself is a big part of this story. Lizzy sweats over her sculptures, her “girls,” portraits of the people around her. The film takes its time watching her work. Williams exudes a healthy, maybe even unhealthy, level of self-criticism. She doesn’t even need to say it, it’s all over her face and the way she projects onto others around her.

Lizzy pays her bills by working in an office with her mother, Jean (Maryann Plunkett), and she worries about her brother, Sean (John Magaro), who struggles with anger issues. Also part of this extended creative community is Lizzy’s father, Bill (Judd Hirsch), and her friend with a kiln, Eric (André Benjamin aka André 3000 of Outkast).

As with her earlier work, Showing Up’s emotional impact is largely an insinuation. As it demands patience, it also rewards it with a tale that feels oddly optimistic and joyful. For me, the full affect of the film didn’t really make itself felt for the first day or so, but bubbled up in the days after. It’s an unusual joy.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.