Showing Up

With a week to go before her art show, Lizzy (Michelle Williams), an oft overlooked Oregon College of Art and Craft administrator, is presented with one obstacle or distraction after another, yet somehow keeps “Showing Up.” 

Laura's Review: B+

Cowriter (with Jon Raymond)/director Kelly Reichardt’s films usually deal with a protagonist’s journey, from two old friends taking a revelatory camping trip in “Old Joy” to her frequent star Williams’ Wendy’s ill-fated bid to head for a job in Alaska with her dog Lucy to the pioneers settling in the Pacific Northwest in her most recent, “First Cow.”   Her latest is a bit different, an examination of all the ways everyday life, and to some degree self-sabotage, impinges on the pursuit of artistic creation.  One expects the film is somewhat autobiographical, the filmmaker also a teacher at Bard.  It may also be her most amusing film since her first, the uncharacteristic Florida set crime caper “River of Grass.”

It is easy to see why Lizzy could disappear into the woodwork.  Wearing a bob that looks self-styled, frumpy button up shirt and skirt ensembles paired with crew socks and mule clogs, no make-up and a scowl, Williams has never looked less glamorous.  The best description of her outward demeanor is ‘put upon,’ annoyed even by having to go out and buy food for her cat.  The orange tabby causes another upset when Lizzy finds it mauling a pigeon in her kitchen, but after sliding the bird out her window into the yard with some measure of disgust, it will come back to haunt her entire week via her psychological nemesis.

That would be her fellow (and more celebrated) artist, friend, duplex neighbor and landlord Jo (Hong Chau), who has been ducking the issue of Lizzy’s broken water heater citing her own deadline of prepping for TWO shows.   After Lizzy’s taken a day off to work on her sculptures, an awkward request considering her boss is her own mother (Maryann Plunkett, 2019's "Little Women"), Jo rounds the corner with a box containing the discarded pigeon wrapped in a towel, asking Lizzy if she can look after it while Jo runs to the gallery.  Whether from genuine concern or pique or a little of both, Lizzy ends up running the bird to the vet, later presenting Jo with the $150 tab.  Jo doesn’t appear miffed, but then again, Jo’s more laid back attitude, the opposite of Lizzy’s, seems to work in her favor.

Over the course of the week, Lizzy will be upset with her dad Bill (Judd Hirsch), thinking his houseguests Lee (Matt Malloy) and Dorothy (Amanda Plummer, hidden under a bucket hat) are taking advantage of him; will fail to notice the interest a visiting artist has taken in her and her work; will hit up everyone for access to their shower; will schedule time with kiln operator Eric (André Benjamin) (and fret over the one figure left too close to the flame) and alert her mother Jean to the increasingly frightening behavior of her brother Sean (John Magaro, "First Cow") which Jean initially fobs off as his ‘genius.’  She’ll also scope out Jo’s show, a larger scaled exhibit of woven work (by Michelle Segre) in a high-ceilinged space, before its opening, but fail to actually appear at the reception.

Reichardt and her director of photography Christopher Blauvelt introduce Jo through her artwork, Blauvelt jerkily panning across the tacked up sketches of female figures in motion which Lizzy will reproduce three dimensionally in clay (the actual work of artist Cynthia Lahti).  There is a joy in both the movement and colors Lizzy splashes on her figures, an inner expression of creativity we fail to see in her day to day life.  While Lizzy’s show is held in a much smaller space than Jo’s (and she will, true to form, worry that there is too much cheese laid out only to admonish Sean for eating too much of it), it is surprisingly well attended and Lizzy and Jo’s avian charge will make quite a statement for all those assembled.         

“Showing Up” may at first appear to have a narrow focus, but it has a lot to say about human behavior which is oftimes contradictory and offers an amusing and affectionate look at Portland’s art scene.  Michelle Williams and Hong Chau make for a marvelous pairing, working together like a Newton’s cradle.

A24 opens "Showing Up" in theaters on 4/14/23.