Kelly Reichardt’s latest feature film, Showing Up, feels like a breath of fresh air. As someone in the process of applying to grad school -and one in the arts-, I find myself feeling overwhelmed by the sheer talent of all my peers. But as someone who is also working multiple jobs and trying to maintain a semblance of a social life, I also never can spend as much time as I want working on applications or my more artistic hobbies. Showing Up proves that even some of the most acclaimed filmmakers of the past few decades also struggle with these things. And boy, doesn’t that make me feel better about myself!
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Release Date: April 7
Showing Up is another collaboration between Reichardt and Michelle Williams, who stars as Lizzy. Lizzy is a sculptor with a gallery show looming very close on the horizon. She also works for her mom, feels responsible for her brother Sean (John Magaro), and is frustrated with her best friend/landlord Jo (Hong Chau) because she won’t fix her hot water. Stretching herself too thin means that Lizzy finds herself racing to complete her work before the opening of her show.
As with all of Reichardt’s films, there is a deeply humanistic approach to her filmmaking and storytelling. The setting is lush and green. Her camera pans to different students at the art center where Lizzy works, capturing them in the middle of their artistic processes. Lizzy’s apartment and studio are cluttered with her tools. There is such an authentic feel to these different spaces that I am thrown back into my undergraduate years at art school, collaborating with classmates and witnessing other students bringing their work across campus.
Alongside this authenticity, Reichardt balances anxiety and relief in Lizzy’s world, making Lizzy’s character deeply personal and extremely relatable. While many of the artists in Lizzy’s life seem sure of themselves and their place in this world where a compliment or critique can change your entire day, Lizzy often finds herself doubting her talent. Jo’s character, brought to life by Hong Chau, is much more self-assured and popular than Lizzy. Jo is also Lizzy’s landlord. Their banter over parking spots and hot water brings a lot of comedic relief to Showing Up, though it’s at the expense of Lizzy’s sanity.
Probably my favorite part of Showing Up is Lizzy’s relationship with animals. Kelly Reichardt often focuses on the partnerships between humans, animals, and nature in her films. In her 2008 film Wendy and Lucy, Wendy (also played by Michelle Williams) goes on a frantic search for her lost dog Lucy, who is played by Reichardt’s own dog. This bond is explored again in Showing Up, as Lizzy’s beloved cat often causes trouble and interrupts her work.
I can’t mention the human/animal dynamics of Showing Up without also mentioning the iconic pigeon. I’ve always believed that you can tell a lot about a person’s empathy by how they treat animals and insects, and pigeons are no exception. Domesticated by humans and then left to fend for themselves to survive in cities, pigeons are extremely smart and kind creatures. Ricky (Lizzy’s menace of a cat) attacks a wayward pigeon and Jo finds it. She decides to care for it but often leaves the bird in Lizzy’s care. Thematically, I think the bird can mean a lot of things. Lizzy’s own self-image issues, finding your path in an ever-changing world, growing up. But Reichardt doesn’t necessarily point to just one symbolic meaning and instead allows Lizzy’s care and empathy to be the tool for the pigeon’s eventual healing and departure back into the wild.
Showing Up is a wonderful culmination of Reichardt’s filmography, bringing in some of her favorite themes like women, animals, nature, and art together in a rather touching coming-of-age story. Fans of Reichardt’s previous work: I think you’ll enjoy her latest for its humanistic approach towards art and that horrible period of post-grad blues. After all, just because you’re living on your own and have a “real” job doesn’t mean you’re all grown up.
Showing Up is now playing in theaters.