Tag Archives: michelle williams

Review: ‘Showing Up’

Michelle Williams and Hong Chau star in director Kelly Reichardt’s gentle, lovely slice of creative life.

We are surrounded by creativity. How did it get there? 

Hard work and perseverance, according to Showing Up, the newest film by director Kelly Reichardt. The title, apparently quoting Woody Allen — “Ninety percent of success in life is just showing up” — is apt, though it only begins to explain what drives the titular artist (Michelle Williams), a sculptor making final preparations for her next show in Oregon. 

The artist sculpts out of her home studio with her roommate, a cat. To support herself, she works as a commercial artist at an arts & crafts combine, managed by her mother (Maryann Plunkett). She visits her father (Judd Hirsch), a retired artist, and worries about her brother (Jean-Luc Boucherot), an artist with an unsteady grasp on life. 

She crosses cordial paths with fellow artists all day long, though she has become angered as of late with Jo (Hong Chau), an artist on the rise. Their point of contention is a hot-water issue in the house owned by Jo, of which the artist rents space for living and working.

All these are little matters that only become bigger issues when they veer from distractions  to obstacles that impinge upon the artist’s free flow of creativity. They may seem small, if not outright petty, yet they grow into mountains when ignored. 

Written by frequent collaborators Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt, Showing Up flows by with casual grace, capturing the gentle push and pull of daily life for an artist. She’s not a ‘struggling’ artist, in that she has food to eat and a safe place to live. Still, hers is a modest life, like that of many of her fellow artists. Occasionally, some may break through and start to enjoy greater success, as Jo appears to be doing. 

More often in life, the artist does not have greater success; the only success they can hope to achieve is to do the work, to finish the work, and then live for another day, so they can start on a new piece of work. The end goal is not necessarily to achieve great success, but to express what is inside, what they may not be able to explain to anyone else, except for showing the work. And to do that, first they just have to show up. 

Director Kelly Reichard does that better than most, as expressed delicately, yet with great passion, in all her films to date. Without the noise of genre films, she captures great big slabs of life, and then distills them into tasty slices that resonate and echo, like a flat stone skipped on a calm lake, rippling quietly yet memorably.

The film opens Friday, April 21, Angelika Film Center (Dallas), Cinemark West Plano, and Alamo Drafthouse Richardson, via A24 Films. It will expand April 28 to additional theaters in Addison, Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Hurst and Plano, . For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘The Fabelmans,’ An Origin Story By Steven Spielberg

Michelle Williams, Paul Dano and Seth Rogen star in a coming-of-age story, directed by Steven Spielberg. 

After directing dozens of films, Steven Spielberg goes home to tell his own story. 

In its very first scene, The Fabelmans throws down the gauntlet between art and science in cinema. Trying to convince the reluctant young Sammy that he will enjoy the experience of watching his very first movie, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), in a New Jersey theater as they wait for the doors to open, his mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams), herself an artistic type who gave up any career hopes in favor of raising a family, argues in behalf of of the film’s artistic merits and how it will make Sammy feel. Simultaneously, his father Burt (Paul Dano), a scientist, explains how movies are exhibited 24 frames per second, and so forth. 

Once they start watching the movie, young Sammy is caught up completely in the experience. Realizing at once his purpose in life, he knows he must somehow make his own movie. From there, of course, a star (filmmaker) is born. 

Even before I knew his name or understood (faintly) what he did as a director, Steven Spielberg captured my attention, first with the television shows he helmed (Colombo, Name of the Game, Night Gallery) and then with the films he made. Starting with his second feature, Jaws (1975), I have endeavored to see everything he has directed on a big screen, if possible, and if circumstances did not permit, then certainly on television. 

I believe The Fabelmans is his 33rd feature film, so far, and certainly ranks in his upper percentile. With the passage of time, he is able to look back upon his own youth, fictionalizing it for dramatic purposes — he receives his first writing credit since A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), collaborating with writer Tony Kushner (Munich, 2005; Lincoln, 2012; West Side Story, 2021) — and softening the edges, without eliminating entirely the painful stabs of memory that are inherent in recalling any great love. We can learn from the past, but only if we are honest with ourselves. 

In Spielberg’s telling, he enjoys a happy family life with his parents and sisters, along with their “Uncle” Bernie (Seth Rogen), Burt’s gregarious best friend and fellow worker, who is also a special friend of Mitzi. When Burt gets a new job with greater responsibilities in Arizona, they all move cross-country together. 

It’s in Arizona that Sammy (now played by Gabriel LaBelle) becomes more ambitious as a filmmaker, gathering like-minded friends to help him realize his dreams on film, and gaining recognition among his peers. From there, however, a fateful camping trip and another big move awaits to deepen the story and raise the stakes for everyone. 

Spielberg’s films are always a pleasure to watch, and this one flew by, belying its extended running time, without aliens or spaceships or the horrors of (genuine) war. Instead, the battles are interpersonal, as Sammy wrestles with what is happening to his parents as they slowly drift apart and the children are left hanging. 

Michelle Williams gives a remarkable performance as Mitzi, much of it with subtle graduations of her facial expressions and body language, as she captures the highs and lows of an artistic woman at a time when women were expected to conform to stilted cultural preconceptions as to their behavior. She doesn’t always need to say anything; sometimes, it’s the way she cuts off her own desire to say something that speaks volumes.

Playing the more contained, conservative parent, Paul Dano is no less effective as Burt. In his own modest, scientific manner that favors analysis over emotion, his face ripples with love and pain, adoration and suffering, as he records everything and files it away for later absorption.  

Entirely absorbing and eminently entertaining, The Fabelmans is a true marvel to behold, a jewel that will last a lifetime. Or more. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities Wednesday, November 23, 2022. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘Certain Women’

dfn-certain-women-720The sky reaches forever, the distant mountains beckon, and the roads stretch ever onward. This is Montana, as presented in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, and it’s as much a character as the women who populate it.

Reichardt sets loose her characters like intelligent wind-up dolls, which makes them immediately familiar. Like everyone else on the planet, Reichardt’s women cope the best they can with their lives, imperfect as they may be. They are the the type of women we rarely see on the big screen: women who are willing to take risks and accept the consequences.

They are, in essence, just like Montana, defined as skies and mountains and roads that will not be easily defeated nor call attention to themselves.

Laura Wells (Laura Dern) is a lawyer vainly trying to help her client Fuller (Jared Harris), a power lineman who suffered a calamitous fall but naively signed away his rights to sue. Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams) is a business owner working to build a new home for her family while also navigating the emotional minefield of her husband Ryan (James Le Gros) and teenage daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier). Jamie (Lily Gladstone) is an extremely shy ranch hand who is attracted to preoccupied new evening-class teacher Beth (Kristen Stewart).

I’ve seen four films by Reichardt over the past 10 years — Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves — and what they hold in common is a reliance on the characters to tell the story quietly through their personalities. Despite the restraint they exercise, their individual strengths always bleed through and inform what happens.

Certain Women reminded me quite a bit of Old Joy, which followed two old friends on a camping trip and somehow managed to detail both their past and future lives merely by the power of casual conversation. The contrast between the beautiful yet restrictive forest in rural Oregon where the men traveled and the wide open spaces of Montana where Certain Women unfolds is striking.

The lead characters will not allow others to limit them. Laura Wells wants to help Fuller but she will not let him dictate her actions. Gina Lewis wants her family to be happy, but she will not let them restrict her movements. Jamie wants Beth to respond to her, but she will not force her to do so.

The performances are marvels of minimalism, with no one overplaying their hand. Only small touches are needed to flesh out the words that Reichardt has written, based on stories by Maile Meloy. The unhurried approach is complemented by Chris Blauvelt’s artistry as director of photography and Reichardt’s own talents as film editor.

Certain Women establishes its leisurely pace early, but it’s simultaneous with the introduction of people of interest who compel attention. The film lingers in the mind, not so much as a collection of stories but as a reminder of individual faces; there’s nothing so beautiful as someone who is determined to make the best out of life.

The film opens on Friday, October 28 at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano.

Review: ‘Take This Waltz’ is Seductive and Frustrating and Troubling

Michelle Williams in 'Take This Waltz' (Magnolia Pictures)
Michelle Williams in ‘Take This Waltz’ (Magnolia Pictures)

Margot is shy and quiet, until you get her talking. If you’re a good-looking young man who flirts with her, she’ll flirt right back, and she doesn’t mind if the flirtatious talk begins to edge into naughtier territory. She’ll blush, but she won’t back down. She likes the sexual innuendos and the “innocent” touches; skin on skin feels so right.

Margot is married. She loves her husband. She loves when he talks to her, and does things for her. She loves to touch him, and, especially, she loves to be touched.

Margot is unhappy. She doesn’t know why.

The swirl of emotions captured by actress turned writer/director Sarah Polley in Take This Waltz is, by turns, seductive and frustrating and puzzling. Polley spells out 95% of the movie in slow, methodical order: Margot (Michelle Williams) is a travel writer. She is attracted to Daniel (Luke Kirby) while on a trip. They return home. Daniel has moved in across the street from Margot. Margot is married to Lou (Seth Rogen). Lou is a cookbook writer. Lou cooks chicken. Daniel is an artist. Daniel owns a pedi-cab. Lou’s sister Geraldine (Sarah Silverman) is an alcoholic. Daniel is attracted to Margot. Daniel pursues Margot. Margot likes being pursued. Margot resists being pursued.

The push/pull between Margot and Daniel is defined by their secret meetings and flirtatious talk, which becomes more overtly sexual over time. Lou is oblivious.

In one of the more obvious examples of Polley’s inclination to tell and show — to really drive her points home — Margot openly wonders about the advisability of pursuing an exciting affair vs. the dependability of a less-than-thrilling long-term relationship. She discusses this with Geraldine and another friend while they are sharing a group shower after a swim class.

Polley forthrightly shoots the scene as the young naked women soap up and rinse off, and then soap up and rinse off again, and then shows them exchanging glances with another group of friendly women in the other part of the open shower, a group of older, heavier women, wrinkled and shriveled in the way that is destined for all flesh. And then one of the older women says, in effect, ‘This is what happens to you when you age. Things change. Better get used to it.’ And Margot wonders what she should do.

Margot, embodied by Michelle Williams with incredible nuance and tenderness and confusion, is not happy, but she doesn’t know why. She’s been married to Luke, a kind and loving man, for years, but prefers joking and flirting to any sort of true communication with her husband. In her conversational exchanges with the soulful-looking Other Man, Daniel, we never hear her reveal anything about her inner life, or her past, or even much about her present unhappiness with Luke.

All of which makes the movie feel irritating and petulant for much of its running time, because Margot is acting in such a selfish manner. It’s as though Polley is justifying adultery, which, personally, caused me to reject it on a knee-jerk level. Frankly, characters who refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions are a huge stumbling block for me, especially when they are presented as some kind of suffering heroine or tragic hero.

The movie takes a turn at a certain point, however, banking steeply upward toward a more poetic, less prosaic view of Margot and her attempts to wrestle with her own emotions. And though my initial conclusion was more negative, I’ve wrestled with my own feelings in the days since I saw the movie.

And I’ve come around to this notion: Yes, Margot fails to impress me as any kind of praiseworthy character (though Daniel is a nastier sort, in my book). But Take This Waltz is not necessarily holding her up as someone to be praised. I think Sarah Polley is suggesting that it’s really, really hard to see ourselves as others do, and even more challenging to look into our own souls and see what sort of person we are.

To my complete surprise, that makes Take This Waltz one of the more troubling movies of the year.

Take This Waltz opens today exclusively at the Landmark Magnolia.

Review: ‘My Week with Marilyn’

Michelle Williams in 'My Week with Marilyn' (Weinstein Co.)
Michelle Williams in 'My Week with Marilyn' (Weinstein Co.)

Recreating the past can be hazardous to your health, especially when it comes to an icon like Marilyn Monroe. The blond bombshell is so well-known that most people carry around a fixed image of her in their heads. Modern attempts to recreate her, or any incidents from her too-short life, would seem foolhardy.

So rather than recreate her, director Simon Curtis and actress Michelle Williams have gone one better, by capturing her spirit in My Week with Marilyn. The movie itself is a slight bit of fancy, ably adapted by Adrian Hodges from two books by Colin Clark in which he recalled the making of The Prince and the Showgirl from his perspective as one of Laurence Olivier’s assistants. According to Clark, he and Marilyn had a brief, deeply-felt fling during the production.

Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter in the context of this movie. What comes across in My Week with Marilyn is that it feels like it really happened, even though it could just as well be a fantasy. With its comic framework, lovely period detail, and fussy impersonations of everyone from Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) to Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) to Dame Sybil Thorndyke (Judi Dench) to Arthur Jacobs (Toby Jones) to Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) to Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) to Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper) to Jack Cardiff (Karl Moffatt), again, what shines through consistently is the emotional authenticity.

As young Colin, Eddie Redmayne is an ambitious go-getter, so determined to work in the movies that he sits in an outer office at Olivier’s production company, waiting to apply for a job that may never materialize. It does, eventually, and Colin’s eager-to-please attitude gets him next to Olivier and in position to observe the divine Marilyn Monroe when she arrives in Britain to film The Prince and the Showgirl. He’s already begun to romance (tentatively) a lovely studio worker named Lucy (Emma Watson), but Marilyn is different: she’s a goddess! And Colin worships her like a divine being.

In time, he becomes close to Marilyn, and takes her side when her insecurities overflow. Olivier directs her brusquely, and others become impatient with her repeated delays, creating division on the set. Marilyn’s supporters, among them acting coach Paula Strasberg and former flingmate Milton Greene, are protective of her, and keep pushing Colin away, but he’s caught Marilyn’s eye, and that can only lead to trouble.

Michelle Williams may not necessarily resemble Marilyn facially, but in her posture and movements and speech patterns, she’s close enough, and it’s in her spirit that she evokes a closer approximation of the troubled actress whose life story is so familiar and achingly painful. And, yes, when she casually drops her clothes in front of the startled (and grateful!) Colin, it may feel like a male fantasy come true, but the freeness of her actions — knowing that she’s being provocative, without necessarily being overtly sexual — are part and parcel of her delicate, fractured soul, barely holding together through repeated relationship turmoil and endless attempts to amelioriate her emotional agonies through medication, legal and otherwise.

Williams’ performance outshines My Week with Marilyn as a whole, which is, nonetheless, a good-faith serio-comic picture about the pleasures and pitfalls of making movies, and not a bad way at all to spend 99 minutes of your life.

— From my review at Twitch.

My Week with Marilyn is now playing at Landmark Magnolia, AMC NorthPark 15, Angelika Plano, and AMC Grapevine Mills 30.