Lizzy is an artist. Her landlord is also an artist. So are her dad, mother, and colleagues at the Portland art and craft school where Lizzy works. Creation surrounds Lizzy in a way that feels wholly organic and so common that no one really comments on it. In other movies, at least one character would ask the question most parents are curious to hear the answer: “So, how do you plan to make a living?”
The beauty of Showing Up, the latest from director Kelly Reichardt, is that it isn’t like other movies. Showing Up is an art movie about the art world where no one bothers to explain the purpose of art. There is plenty of art produced and seen in the movie, but rare are comments of worth artistic and commercial, opinions of value, and discussions of approval or disapproval. Sketches, finished paintings, installations, pottery, sculpture—they all exist side-by-side, together and apart, with the sense that the results are secondary to the work.
And Showing Up features plenty of work. And not just the work involved in creating the pieces, but the hanging, installing, and displaying of those pieces. Reichardt and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt note the physical labor involved with these steps. I have two fine artists in my family, and both are the people you call if you need help building a planter, installing a ceiling fan, or refurbishing a kitchen.
That might explain why Lizzy (Michelle Williams) is so fed up with her landlord, Jo (Hong Chau). Lizzy’s water heater is out, and she hasn’t had a hot shower in days. Jo says she’ll fix it, but after this show and then that show and once the new heater gets in from some distant town. They’re all excuses, and both Lizzy and Jo know it. Lizzy also has a show coming up, and she’s hard at work getting all her sculptures together. But things come up, and Lizzy manages to work them into her day-to-day the way Jo refuses to work Lizzy’s water heater into hers.
These things: a mauled pigeon with a broken wing that needs nursing, a brother (John Magaro) with mental health issues, a father (Judd Hirsch) with houseguests, a mother (Maryann Plunkett) who doubles as her boss—all of them intercede in Lizzy’s mental space, but none of them keep her from creating. Even if she has to pull an all-nighter after taking care of everyone else in her life, Lizzy gets the work done.
Reichardt, paired once again with writing partner Jonathan Raymond, presents each interaction as humorous and quietly alarming. One of the beauties of Showing Up is that Reichardt and Raymond arrange the players so that they naturally create tension that builds toward the movie’s climax. But where other filmmakers might have used those elements to create chaos—comedic or tragic—Reichardt creates calm. Showing Up has one of those endings that fit perfectly. The kind that makes you realize that the movie’s been softly cooing this entire time.
Showing Up (2022)
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
Written by Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
Produced by Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani
Starring: Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, Maryann Plunkett, Judd Hirsch, John Magaro, André Benjamin
A24, Rated R, Running time 108 minutes, Premiered May 27, 2022 at the Cannes Film Festival
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