“You have to listen to what isn’t being said!” remarks a character in Kelly Reichardt’s latest, an observation that applies not just to the First Cow filmmaker’s latest minimalist effort but pretty much every film she’s directed so far. It’s particularly apposite this time around, though, in that her lead character, Oregon-based sculptor Lizzie (Michelle Williams), is trying to communicate through art: a passion that consumes her to such a degree that the competing travails of her family, friends and colleagues register merely as exasperating distractions.
Exasperating is one word that could be used to Williams’ solipsistic heroine as she prepares for a make-or-break exhibition that might transform her career. Yet Reichardt gives her a chance to redeem herself through the unlikely means of a pigeon: an avian intruder who, having been set upon by Lizzie’s pet cat Ricky, she subsequently makes it her duty to restore to health.
Fans of 2008’s Wendy and Lucy will see parallels in the way Showing Up pairs Williams with a non-human co-star. Here, however, its role is more of a pigeon ex machina that awakens Williams and her fellow artists at the Oregon College of Art and Craft (an actual college in Portland) to the fact that there might be more to life than their somewhat rarefied concerns.
From Wendy and Lucy through Meek’s Cutoff (2010) to 2016’s Certain Women, Williams and Reichardt have forged a strong and intuitive connection that has made Showing Up, their fourth collaboration, one of the more intriguing titles on offer at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. As with anything to do with contemporary art, though, the end result provokes a mixed response.
Reichardt’s direction is as meticulous as ever, one extended shot showing Lizzie append limbs to one of her table-top clay maquettes absorbing us wholly in the minutiae of her artistry. In other areas, though, things feel off, a comedic subplot about her father (Judd Hirsch) being taken advantage of by a pair of shameless freeloaders (Matt Malloy and Amanda Plummer) feeling out of sync with the film’s predominantly reflective mood.
That Hirsch and Lizzie’s mother (Maryann Plunkett) are now estranged and have another adult child (John Magaro) with mental health issues brings further complications. Of all the film’s relationships, though, it’s the one between Lizzie and her landlord Jo (Downsizing’s Hong Khau) that proves most revealing, Lizzie’s annoyance over a malfunctioning water heater serving as a surrogate for her fears that her younger, better-connected counterpart is leaving her behind.
Showing Up has premiered pretty late at this year’s festival, too late perhaps to make much of an impact on this year’s competition. If you’ve enjoyed Reichardt’s other films, though, you’ll want to show up for this one when it finds its way into cinemas.
Showing Up does not have a US or UK release date. Stick with Total Film for all the latest coverage from Cannes 2022 – check out our review of Elvis, through that link.