The short answer to that headline question is “No.”
Even on Netflix, director Kelly Reichardt’s movies are the ultimate acquired taste. Austere to the point where tiny gestures are magnified into moments of enormous consequence, silent save for the most banal blurbs of dialogue, they live in the eyes of her characters, in the sea of words left unspoken.
After flirting with melodrama in her feature debut (“River of Grass”), she quickly found her niche in telling stories where — to quote IMDB user reviews on “Old Joy,” “Wendy and Lucy” etc., “nothing happens.”
She made a Western about a wagon trail lost on the Way West, “Meek’s Cutoff,” and left them wandering to what we assume will be their doom.
Michelle Williams became her muse some years back, and the Montana Oscar winner was probably the magnet who helped draw Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, James Le Gros, Lily Gladstone and Rene Auberjonois to “Certain Women,” an adaptation of Montana stories by Montanan Maile Meloy.
Loosely connected, they tell of women coping with loneliness, distance, personal and professional frustration in Big Sky country, “Where the men are men and the sheep don’t mind.”
Sorry, old North Dakota joke about “Mont-ah-ah-ah-ah-na.”
It’s a humorless film, too, so you do what you can for it.
Dern plays a lawyer having an affair in Livingston, anything to liven up a life and practice whose highlight is dealing with one increasingly crazy client (Jared Harris). He suffered a head injury in an accident, accepted a hasty settlement, and has spent months refusing to accept her counsel that he screwed himself permanently and the blurred vision and increasingly irrational behavior are not something he can take to court again.
Williams is married to the guy (Le Gros) who is having the affair. With their teenage daughter, they’re living in a tent, struggling to build their own house, angling to talk the elderly Albert (Auberjonois) out of a pile of cut sandstone on his property.
Native American actress Gladstone (“Winter in the Blood,” “Scalped”) is a solitary ranch hand, dealing with livestock and a feisty Corgi out in remote Belfry (population, 218). One night she wanders into “town,” follows the “crowd” into a school, and finds herself in a class on “School Law,” mainly consisting of teachers anxious to question a lawyer about their rights — to compensation, overtime, to expel problem students.
The teacher? Working class, fresh-out-of-law-school Livingston lawyer Beth is played by Kristen Stewart at her most natural, disarmingly unkempt. The Rancher’s gaydar goes off and she’s smitten. But is she reading the girlish but rough-cut Beth right?
Reichardt’s serene, slow style means that even the big incidents in these stories pack no punch. The most dramatic might be the lawyer dealing with the increasingly unhinged client, the most aching is the rancher-lawyer flirtation.
The Williams/Le Gros episode has the expectation of fireworks that never come.
Poignant here, anti-climactic there, Reichardt wrings as much meaning as she can from her players’ eyes — words unspoken, hurt and hope and guilt and disappointment register in just a look.
You hope for more, and you have a right to expect more, but Reichardt has gotten away with less for so long that it’s too much to expect her to deliver it, now.
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Cast: Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Rene Auberjonois, Lily Gladstone, Jared Harris, James Le Gros, Kristen Stewart
Credits:Written and directed by Kelly Reichardt, based on stories by Melie Malloy. A — release.
Running time: 1:47