NYFF 60 Review: Showing Up

Year: 2022
Runtime:  108 minutes
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Writer: Johnathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, Andre Benjamin, John Magaro, Judd Hirsch

By Tom Moore

Writer/director Kelly Reichardt and Michelle Williams reunite on the big screen for the fourth time to deliver another subtly emotional and tender personal story with their new film “Showing Up.”

The film sees Williams play reclusive sculptor Lizzy as she prepares for a new show while dealing with ongoing issues in her personal and professional life. With how Reichardt captures Lizzy’s artistic progress and the art camp she works at, she evokes this documentary-like feel that makes for a more engaging viewing experience. The slow zoom-in shots make you feel more immersed into the story and like you’re alongside Lizzy as she’s creating new sculptures. Reichardt’s gentle approach makes for this personal look into the life of an artist that makes “Showing Up” a strong character study. Also, the way Reichardt cuts to classes and projects happening around the camp and captures Lizzy dealing with her family issues helps build a more compelling atmosphere that’s richly intriguing and surprisingly funny.

While the first act or so of “Showing Up” struggles to establish itself and get its story hooks into you, there’s one thing that’s very clear, it’s incredibly funny. The opposite personalities of Lizzy and her neighbor/colleague Jo (Hong Chau) make for these personality clashes that make Lizzy’s deadpan humor and delivery so hilarious. Chau is equally funny with how she can be kind of in her own world and be bubblier much to Lizzy’s disdain.

Any time that Reichardt is just looking at different art classes and programs throughout the camp, there’s always something that’ll make you laugh. There’s a great moment where someone says exactly what you’re thinking when looking at some of the abstract classes and it’s absolutely hilarious. Also, you just get to look at some stunning and creative art in progress making for some engaging visuals that add some good color and aesthetics to the film. “Showing Up” is totally unafraid of exploring the weird and often funny parts of its unique art world making it a blast to be in.

Lizzy’s personal life can deliver some great laughs too with Williams’ performance working excellently with Reichardt’s comedic direction, which should be a surprise to no one. Williams and Reichardt continue their efforts together flawlessly through Lizzy’s complex life of balancing her desires to keep her dysfunctional family together while also achieving great things with her art. Williams is surrounded by an immensely talented cast that matches her ability to bring out some funny moments while also keeping this tender and emotional feel to their relationships. Even the small mishaps of Lizzy’s personal life, including her mischievous yet adorable cat, deliver some good laughs and it’s always fun to watch Williams deliver some fun deadpan humor that fits Lizzy perfectly.

While its first act might struggle to get its hooks in story-wise, the film really finds its footing once Lizzy finds an unexpected muse for herself that stems from a hilarious interaction between Lizzy and Jo. With how cold Lizzy is through most of her interactions in the early parts of the film, there’s something about the way she slowly opens up after encountering this new muse. As the film goes on and Lizzy’s deadline gets closer, Williams and Reichardt really bring Lizzy out her shell through her desires to see that her troubled brother Sean (John Magaro) is okay and that she perfects her craft so that she garners the same recognition as Jo. It makes for a great look at personal and artistic struggles colliding and combining for a character study full of subtle emotion.

Also, the way that Lizzy shares the spotlight with Jo in the film adds so much more depth to Lizzy’s personal story because of how Jo is so different from her. While Lizzy is more reclusive and a perfectionist with her art, Jo is more calm, social, and freeform with her art making her get on Lizzy’s nerves when she sees herself suffering more than Jo or feeling lesser based on other’s perceptions of their artwork. Lizzy’s story defines artistic struggle excellently because of these opposing stories and it’s even better how the film doesn’t go the generic route of making them enemies. Rather, it explores their complex friendship and adversary relationship creating this great story thread of friendship akin to the central dynamic of “First Cow” that culminates in this fulfilling and warming ending.

“Showing Up” is another fantastic collaboration between Reichardt and Williams that also sees Chau shine as well in a great mix of comedy and personal drama. Reichardt crafts an incredibly engaging art world full of hilarious moments that features Williams and Chau in a funny and personal story about artistic and personal struggles that leaves a memorable impact.

4.5 stars

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