Michelle Williams and filmmaker Kelly Reichardt reunite for their fourth collaborative effort, Showing Up, a slow-moving almost-comedy about art and life and the artist life. Reichardt is known for her style of “slow cinema”, that is, the cinema of regular people living regular lives in regular society, or even on the fringes of regular society. She often focuses on women in these circumstances, just going about life without much fanfare, except that which is afforded to anyone in the normal course of things. Showing Up, like all of Reichardt’s films, is unglamorous and average, enjoyably relaxed, not unlike the works of British filmmaker Ken Loach, or Kenneth Lonergan. If you like films about people just like, hanging out and going around, Showing Up is for you.

 

Williams stars as Lizzy, a sculptor in Portland, Oregon. She is preparing for a solo show of her ceramic figurines which are clearly crafted to entrap the souls of her enemies. Her parents are divorced and artists, too, her mother, Jean (Maryann Plunkett), teaches at the colleges where Lizzy, too, is a teacher by day (nepo baby!). Her father, Bill (Judd Hirsch), is a fellow ceramicist, though he has retired. Her brother, Sean (John Magaro), is also an artist, and dealing with an unnamed mental illness. In a worse movie, Lizzy’s family would be a constant source of outsize drama; instead, they provide a low-level stress that Lizzy has learned to navigate by instinct, checking in on her father and his weird friends, calling Mom when her brother is visibly struggling.

Many things in Showing Up would be bigger and more dramatic in a dumber movie, but Showing Up is, like all of Reichardt’s work, about the rhythms of normal life. Lizzy’s art show is not glamorous, as so much of the art world is not. It’s in a storefront gallery with plastic cups and a cheese plate—this is not Art Basel, it’s how most working artists actually live, balancing day jobs and their studio work. Interstitial scenes in the film focus on the production of art, of students working in cramped studios, or artists physically crafting their work. Andre Benjamin appears as the kiln operator at the art school where Lizzy teaches and fires her figurines (he also plays the flute in Ethan Rose’s score), and Hong Chau stars as Jo, a fellow artist.

 

This is where Showing Up mines most of its drama. Lizzy and Jo live and work in close proximity. They live in the same unit of rowhouses; Jo is Lizzy’s landlord. Lizzy’s hot water is busted, but Jo hasn’t fixed it yet because she has TWO shows coming up. They aren’t exactly friends, but they’re not not friends, either. There is a sense of camaraderie, and perhaps a friendship that has gone stale over the years, as circumstance separates them, such as Jo reminding Lizzy that she gets a “good deal” on her rent, or the casual reminders that Jo is just that little bit more successful than Lizzy. And yet, Lizzy genuinely enjoys Jo’s art, and vice versa, and the two of them are involved in a wildlife rehab project together.

You see, Lizzy has a cat that maims a pigeon in the dead of night. Lizzy dumps the wounded bird out the window, then later lies about it when Jo finds the pigeon and decides to nurse it back to health. (In some ways, Showing Up is the story of a girl covering for her asshole cat.) Lizzy ends up involved in Project Pigeon, which is the quirkiest this film gets. A student points out how silly it is to rehab a pigeon, of all things, but Showing Up is about focusing on small things in life. Lizzy cruises curb trash for found objects to use with her haunted dolls, she has her cat, her art, maybe her family on a good day. 

 

This is not art as wild passion but art as rigorous practice, with the quiet satisfaction of turning inspiration into object, if not fortune and glory. It could perhaps be seen as an allegory for Reichardt’s career, of creation and persistence on the fringes of a more glamorous world but Showing Up is also a classic Kelly Reichardt character study of everyday women carving out space for themselves in a world that takes little notice either way and the vibrancy of ordinary lives.

Showing Up is exclusively in theaters and expanding throughout April.