What It's About: Someone's life may look ordinary from a distance, but as we peer more closely, oh, can it be messy. Such is the premise of "Certain Women," three slice-of-life vignettes realized by strong actresses.
Writer-director Kelly Reichardt adapted a trio of short stories by Montana writer Maile Meloy, taken from her "Both Ways Is The Way I Want It" collection.
Focusing on everyday annoyances that are part of life's complexities, Reichardt unfolds the tales as if we just plopped down into their daily journey. We're a fly on the wall as they navigate the small stuff, which has bigger implications as well.
In a sly way, their lives also connect.
In the first, from "The Tome," attorney Laura Dern ("Wild") is exasperated by a client (Jared Harris), whose negligent lawsuit against his former employer is not going well.
Michelle Williams ("My Week with Marilyn") is a controlling wife and mother in the middle segment, from "Native Sandstone." She's trying to create a perfect living space, but her world is anything but. Williams made two movies with Reichardt before this — "Wendy and Lucy" and "Meek's Cutoff," also set in the Northwest.
Taken from "Travis B.," the final sequence is arguably the film's best. Kristen Stewart ("Twilight") plays an insecure lawyer who teaches a night class, but didn't realize how frazzled the commute would cause her to be.
Performances: As good as the headline actresses are, the movie's breakout star is Lily Gladstone who tenderly brings out the shy and vulnerable qualities of a ranch hand, lonely and isolated. On a whim, she walks into the class to hopefully gain a friend.
Familiar actors Rene Auberjonois, James LeGros and Harris capably flesh out their brief roles, too.
What Works: The gorgeous open spaces in Montana contrast with a nondescript city like Livingston or Billings, adding to the atmosphere.
A plucky spirit of forging on is present in all three stories, some with more poignancy than others.
All are interesting in their own way, as we're drawn in by the compelling performances.
What Doesn't Work: The style is deliberately languid, and there aren't enough resolutions. So, investing in what happens to these characters can be frustrating.
However, there is a poetic elegance to how the work weaves into a bigger picture.
Director: Kelly Reinhardt
Starring: Laura Dern, Jared Harris, Michelle Williams, James Le Gros, Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone.
Rated: R for language