America’s foremost neorealist filmmaker shows up and shares

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Showing Up
VOD, Tuesday 27

The closest an American filmmaker gets to an Agnes Varda or a Chantal Akerman is Kelly Reichardt. None of Reichardt’s movies have made more than $2 million at the box office (a Marvel movie makes that in an hour on opening weekend) but at the art house level, any new film by her is an event.

I still remember fighting for a seat for the premiere of the masterful Certain Women at TIFF. It was worth it.

Reichardt’s latest, Showing Up (which had a blink-and-you-missed-it release in Saskatoon) is more lighthearted than her usual work but it’s meaty all the same. Showing Up is a portrait of an artist as perennial searcher, pathologically unable to ‘enjoy the moment’. The creator in question is Lizzy (frequent Reichardt collaborator Michelle Williams), a sculptor trying to get noticed. Days away from a key exhibition, she can’t focus on work because conflicts with her landlord and family keep getting in the way.

Lizzy herself is a prickly pear. One could argue she’s less interested in solving her personal issues than having somebody to blame for her failures. The situation comes to a head when a pigeon breaks into the house and her cat goes for the kill. Suddenly Lizzy find herself taking care of the winged vermin, much to her chagrin.

Reichardt surrounded Williams with a hyper-competent cast: up-and-comer Hong Chau (The Whale) as Lizzy’s landlord/frenemy, the re-emerging Judd Hirsch (The Fabelmans) as her old hippie dad, and John Magaro (who died for Reichardt in First Cow) as Lizzy’s brother, who’s struggling with mental health issues.

The sculptures (by Portland artist Cynthia Lahti) were cast before anybody else. They weren’t told how the movie ends.

I’ve tried to interview Kelly Reichardt many times before, unsuccessfully. The excuses were all along the lines of “she doesn’t do many interviews” or “she’s very reserved” so I basically expected Greta Garbo when I finally scored some time with her. Turns out Reichardt is nothing like that: very engaged, killer timing, and not shy about pushing back or turning a question around.

In Showing Up, Lizzy’s daily life keeps interfering with her work. How do you keep your focus during production?

Production is so all-consuming it completely takes you away from your real life. I’m jealous of artists who touch their materials, can do something in a day and go home. Film is ongoing, long, and complicated. I think that’s why so many people in the industry are divorced or drink a lot. You leave at the end of the day and immediately you’re thinking about the next one. On the first day after I finished this film, it was quite an adrenaline drop.

What about your writing habits?

You can’t block out the world because writing is a long process. The script was a reason to get together with my friend and co-writer Jonathan Raymond, have coffee, and gossip. You really think you’re working, and you are. Hanging out has a lot to do with art making.

Showing Up is your fourth collaboration with Michelle Williams. I imagine by now you have a shorthand. How does it manifest?

I say, “Michelle, do it right this time!” [laughs] It’s more like you don’t have to beat around the bush. In each film, we’ve been on a search for something together. Halfway through we figure out who the character is. We’re getting there a little faster. Now I try different things. In the past I was too locked in. It’s probably a relief for Michelle, a bit more fun.

How do you know when an actor is a good fit? Because Judd Hirsch seems perfect for your world.

I’ve been hearing for years that Judd Hirsch is one of the best American actors, but what I was trying to solve is how can John Magaro and Michelle Williams be siblings [in the movie]. The answer was casting Maryann Plunkett and Judd Hirsch as their parents. Every take with Judd was different: he gave me so many possibilities in the editing room. He never wanted to talk about anything with me. I wish I had more time to find out how many takes he could do and keep it interesting.

Is there a movie of yours you think has been unfairly overlooked? I’m asking you this because I always thought Night Moves should’ve been a hit.

It’s more about the love you get from your distributor. The person who really loved Night Moves at Cinedigm wasn’t there anymore by the time it came out. I’ve to say, I’ve been lucky — I’ve mostly worked with people that have gone out of their way for really small films. It was sad what happened with First Cow — we opened the weekend that COVID shut everything down. But things come back around. River of Grass [Reichardt’s first movie] had a very difficult launch 30 years ago but was rereleased and got its day at the theatre. It feels terrible to complain, I’m grateful to have found an audience.

Is there a character of yours you would like to revisit at a different stage in their lives? I’ve wondered myself from time to time what ever happened to Wendy (of Wendy and Lucy).

I don’t think Wendy made it. She shouldn’t have gone to Alaska in a train by herself.


The worst thing to me is to be stuck in your hometown. I grew up in a place I wasn’t exposed to any art. Thankfully, I went to New York and found likeminded people. Wendy wasn’t making great decisions, but maybe she met someone good along the way that took her in a different direction. Maybe she’s living in Alaska and voted for Sarah Palin.

The horror. Actually, that brings me back to Showing Up. Maybe Lizzy should have a bit more faith in people?

If you can make a life for yourself doing what you want to do, surrounded by people who support you, that’s a pretty great thing to accomplish. The worst thing for me would’ve been being too scared to try something. If you were gay or trans and stuck in Tennessee or Florida, you’ve got to get out of there — go somewhere where you can live your life. ■