Showing Up Review- A Strange Collection of Characters at an Art School Doesn’t Make a Movie

There are a lot of films in the history of the movie industry that are just slice-of-life stories. That’s the case with Showing Up. It’s just this small little story that features a close-knit group of friends and family members. It’s not trying to be anything that important or groundbreaking. Kelly Reichardt is that kind of storyteller and director. She does these little intimate stories. Sometimes that’s all you need.

Lizzy (Michelle Williams) is a frumpy woman who works at an art school in Oregon for her mother. She’s an artist as well. She draws pictures of women and turns them into sculptures. She has her own show coming up but her family drama involving her brother Sean (John Magaro) and her subleaser Jo (Hong Chow). Her personal life is very complicated and it takes her away from what she loves about her life and her art.

Straight off of their Academy Award nominations Michelle Williams, Hong Chow, and Judd Hirsch all give good performances as these family members and so forth. Chau’s character is the owner of the place where Williams’s character lives and they have an uneasy relationship that seems a bit contentious over the hot water not working and Hirsch is somewhat of a lady’s man even though he is not with William’s mother anymore. This family dynamic is a strange one. Yet relatable in some ways.

The main focus of this film is the art and this school that everybody goes to and works for. All the various characters have some connection to art even Andre Benjamin, of Andre 3000, who plays a character who runs the kiln so Williams’s character and others can get their sculptures hardened. He is a nice fellow that gets along with most people in the movie. He even adds some of his musical talents to the score and soundtrack.

This whole world is like a hippie commune though. Everybody has their own thing they do. They hang out at parties and go to each other’s shows and evaluate one another and congratulate each other. It’s just that kind of place. Set in Oregon it makes sense because this is a state of free spirits and free will. The characters all have a pretty easy way about them until the end of the film where one thing gets some of them a little ruffled up.

The main character played by Williams is the focus of the movie most of the time and she plays this character as low-key as possible. She’s not doing huge emotional swings or anything extravagant with her performance. Reichardt gets what she wants out of Williams and the other actors but none of them go too far. There are a few moments where Williams’s character shows some emotion but not many. She’s pretty laid back like a lot of the characters are. The story doesn’t say much either so it is hard to determine what Reichardt is going for in this film.

Showing Up is an exercise in relaxation and being calm despite not exactly trying to be all the time. Williams tones it way back to play this low-key character. Her family and friends do their best to get her out of her comfort zone and her artist headspace. A crazy brother, a promiscuous father, and a neurotic mother don’t help her much. She succeeds in her life despite them and not having hot water. This may be Reichardt’s most accessible film but it’s still a little out there for me. 

3 stars 

Dan Skip Allen

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