This review is a part of Substream’s coverage of the 60th edition of New York Film Festival.
Director Kelly Reichardt’s latest minimalistic dramedy, Showing Up, might resonate the most in the hearts of aspiring artists (should we say aspiring if you’re in the act of doing?) The ones who retreat to basements, garages, and home officers to work away on a particular craft they love. With that, there are varying levels of success could mean. For one person, it’s billboards, big-time galas, and red carpets. For a small-town Oregon sculptor, Lizzy (Michelle Williams), it’s a gallery show she’s having in a week. What you’ll notice with Showing Up is that Reichardt wants to pay much attention to the artistic process and character points equally. The film’s beginning shows Lizzie meticulously falling into the craft of molding clay. The camera pans around to some of her drawings in various stages of completion. Some are unfinished. Others have taken form in the multiple sculptures of women Lizzie is trying to illustrate.
But as any non-full-time artist knows, processes mostly fall prey to the mundane and monotonous asks of life itself. Make a living to gain minutes to do what you love. Sometimes, the things you want are personified in others around us. It’s a humorous and, sometimes, cruel juxtaposition of feeling that life is slightly out of reach. Lizzy wants a day off to ensure everything is ok for the show. Her landlord and confidant, Jo (Hong Chau), has been too busy to fix Lizzy’s hot water for two weeks. Jo is also an artist and has two shows to prepare for, as luck would have it. As the film continues, both characters have two standards they live by. While Jo is more outgoing and free, Lizzy opts for quiet nights working on her passion projects with her cat.
This tension builds, but not in the way typical opposite comedies do. Reichardt and William opt for a more subdued subtext to Lizzy’s character. She works at a college sculpture magazine with her mother, Jean (Maryann Plunkett), whose free-loving approach often clashes with Lizzy’s somber demeanor. Her father, Bill (Judd Hirsch), is a former sculptor Lizzie looks up to. However, he’s allowed his house to become an unconventional Airbnb to a couple from Canada. Last, there’s Lizzy’s brother Sean (John Magaro), whose mind has fallen down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories. It’s a particular source of anxiety for her, considering Lizzy is all alone in trying to diagnose the problem. Her parents are off in their corners of the world, long separated and having different relationship dynamics with their daughter.
In a world of distractions, Lizzy could use a couple of friends — that she accidentally finds in a broken-winged pigeon and a charismatic teacher named Eric (Andre 3000). Perhaps Reichardt and co-writer Jonathan Raymond meant for Lizzy’s affinity to help the pigeon along as a sense of some shared comradery. Showing Up concerns itself with the present-day in a week. You can’t help to feel there’s something behind the melancholy, even-balanced personality that Michelle Williams shows in her character. In one of the film’s only instances of a musical score, Lizzy finally shows emotion to all the things aligning against her.
But it all comes back to the theme of the artistic process. This is where Lizzy and the other characters feel most at home. Reichardt randomly splices students partaking in various forms of expression throughout the narrative. It’s a composition full of talented individuals — without pushing you in one direction, you want to root for Lizzy to get the big break. Jo might have a big studio and tools at her beck and call to work with, but creatively is never bound by limitations. Is it wrong to disappear into a hobby you hope to elevate into some importance? I would say no. Lizzy’s art space is her epicenter of Zen, considering the quiet chaos of her outside world.
Perhaps the journey to the show is a way for her to grab on harder to the fabric of her life. Many of the things which occur in Showing Up happen to Lizzy as she internalizes them. These events mold her like the clay our main character intricately forms into whatever shapes she desires.
Photo Credit: A24