Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

Tivoli Theatre – After Hours Film Society Presents Showing Up

September 11, 2023 @ 7:30 pm

Michelle Williams in Kelly Reichardt’s ‘Showing Up’: Film Review | Cannes 2022
A sculptor nervously prepares for an exhibit while juggling the distractions of her family and friends in this gorgeous reflection on making art, the fourth collaboration between the director and star.Reviewed by David Rooney | The Hollywood Reporter

The Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland, which closed in 2019, makes a sublime setting for Showing Up, Kelly Reichardt’s thoughtful, affecting and often unexpectedly funny character study of a woman making art while navigating the exasperating whirl of everyday problems outside her garage studio. The school as depicted here is a magnet for oddball art obsessives and amusing counterculture throwbacks, yet the beauty of this unpolished jewel of a film is the way it drops you into the center of that world, without distance, judgement or cynicism. It demonstrates once again that Reichardt’s work with Michelle Williams is among the most rewarding collaborations of contemporary American independent cinema.

This is Williams’ fourth film with the director, following the American underclass heartbreaker about a drifter and her dog, Wendy and Lucy; the stripped-down pioneer Western, Meek’s Cutoff; and the elliptical triptych Certain Women. Like those distinctive yet stylistically and thematically related works, Showing Up is a hand-crafted wonder, rich in tiny details that sneak up on you to provide intimate access to another Northwestern woman far more reticent than transparent.

The other repeat partnership that elevates this beguiling miniature is with Oregon author Jon Raymond as co-screenwriter, following Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff, Night Moves and 2019’s First Cow, an ode to male friendship that doubled as a commentary on capitalism and a stealth thriller about a pair of unlikely American frontier fortune hunters. That A24 release was a pandemic casualty, so here’s hoping the same company has more luck this time expanding beyond the director’s loyal niche audience.

The new film perhaps more than any other in Reichardt’s body of work seems quite revealing in its sweet, low-key comical way of the challenges of being a visual artist outside the commercial mainstream and balancing the messy demands of life with creative endeavors that often require monomaniacal focus. With sly humor, Showing Up asks the question of whether artists create in spite of the endless distractions life throws at them, or if a certain level of chaos — with impediments both imposed and self-induced — becomes essential to the process.

Williams plays Lizzy, a tightly wound sculptor with one frantic week left to finish work on a series of ceramic female figures for a show in a downtown Portland gallery that could put her on a wider map. She has little time for pleasantries, which gives her a mildly abrasive, sometimes morose edge. But her solitude is a necessity, not a symptom of loneliness.

The layered impressions of Lizzy’s complicated nature seem amplified by her work (represented by pieces from Portland artist Cynthia Lahti). The watercolor studies for the women depicted have a physically twisted, unsettling look, like Egon Schiele portraits; they often give the impression of being downcast or burdened as they take shape out of the modeling clay. But they emerge transformed from the school kiln — operated with unfailing cheeriness and words of encouragement by André Benjamin’s Eric, one of the ensemble’s many inspired casting choices. Fortified and enlivened by the colors of the glazing, they take on more expressive kinetic, even liberated qualities. The attention to physical detail in the process of creating and installing art here is fascinating.

Lizzy has a friendly but often spiky relationship with her neighbor, landlord and fellow artist Jo (Hong Chau, never better), who’s busy preparing not one but two shows. The women are obviously close, but each of them exists in her own bubble, which shrinks as deadlines loom. It seems out of character to talk about a running gag in a Kelly Reichardt movie, but Lizzy’s complaints about her hot water heater being broken and Jo’s lack of urgency in providing maintenance draw chuckles every time.

Williams excels at revealing the mixed feelings in Lizzy of envy and support for the moment Jo appears to be having on the local arts scene. (The large mixed-media installations of Bronx artist Michelle Segre stand in for her work.) There’s considerable humor in Lizzy’s prickliness even over Jo hooking up with Eric or having a bunch of friends over for drinks on her adjoining balcony.

The interactions between the two women frequently revolve around a wounded pigeon Jo found in the yard, which spends most of the film recovering in a cardboard box with its wing bandaged. What Lizzy doesn’t tell Jo is that her cat Ricky did the damage. As she’s persuaded to keep an eye on the bird, at first begrudgingly and gradually with genuine care, keeping the cat away from it becomes one more drain on her time.

The insistently demanding Ricky might be the best screen cat since Ulysses in Inside Llewyn Davis, which is not surprising given the special place animals so often occupy in Reichardt’s films. And Williams’ mix of affection and irritation with him provides another of the movie’s unforced notes of humor.

More vociferous demands on Lizzy’s attention come from her family, all of whom including Lizzy seem to have behavioral issues. Her father Bill (Judd Hirsch, great to see you) is also a ceramicist but has stopped making new work and seems untroubled by the hilariously awful freeloaders (Amanda Plummer and Matt Malloy) who have taken over his house, not for the first time. His socially awkward intensity, particularly around younger women, suggests a slight manic undercurrent.

Lizzy’s mother Jean (New York stage treasure Maryann Plunkett) is separated from her husband and has little patience for his quirks. She runs the OCAC department where Lizzy also works in admin, and has her hands too full coordinating the school’s group show to find bandwidth for her daughter’s needs.

That initially includes Lizzy’s alarm over her unstable brother Sean (First Cow revelation John Magaro), whose bipolar episodes hint at the frequent overlap between mental illness and feverish artistic creativity, while avoiding clichéd generalizations. There’s real poignancy in the sibling relationship. Likewise, in Jean’s eventual switch into intervention mode, after first acknowledging that Sean has problems and adding, “But who doesn’t?”

Counterbalancing the rippling family anxieties are lovely casual observations of the various workshops and classes at the school — fabric dying, video and multimedia, weaving, pottery, painting, etc. One student can’t wait to show Eric an elaborate knitting project that’s so bizarre it’s almost ridiculous. A teacher-artist (Heather Lawless) asks Lizzy what the absurdly self-serious interpretive dance class happening in the yard is called, so she can sign up for it. “Thinking and movement,” Lizzy replies in an affectless deadpan.

There’s no mockery of the hippie-dippy arts community, just a warm acknowledgment of the eccentricities of the mutually supportive, nonconformist environment. In that and other aspects, Showing Up has a tone that recalls offbeat ‘70s comedies — almost like a very chill, more introspective Altman film.

Raymond and Reichardt’s screenplay is primarily observational, aided by regular DP Christopher Blauvelt’s discreetly curious camera. But delicate momentum is built into the writing as the opening of Lizzy’s show approaches. And right up until the last minute, the filmmakers toy with tension by hinting at potential embarrassments or disasters, whether it’s Bill’s high spirits around Lizzy’s female colleagues, his houseguests swooping in on the wine and cheese without even glancing at the art, or the threat of wreckage caused by human or animal.

But this beautifully acted, expertly modulated film is a work of such enveloping gentleness that even the worst crises are simply absorbed into the fabric of life and work. While the ending might have been corny in a less subtle director’s hands, here it’s quietly restorative. We don’t deserve Kelly Reichardt.

$7.00 Members | $11.00 Non-Members
5021 Highland Avenue  |  Downers Grove, IL
630-968-0219 |  classiccinemas.com
We apologize—Movie Pass cannot be used for AHFS programs


September 11, 2023
7:30 pm