Showing Up (2023) | Review

Kelly Reichardt creates a natural but testing picture of the creative world where even the smallest obstacles pose serious challenges.

Showing Up (2023) | Review
Source: The Movie Database

Synopsis: A sculptor tries to keep her life in balance while preparing to exhibit her work.

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, Maryann Plunkett, John Magaro, André Benjamin

This is my first foray into Kelly Reichardt's work, who is intent on pointing the camera at the slow and small sides of life. In Showing Up, she captures the creative process in a much calmer light than the pressure-cooked characters of (for example) Damien Chazelle's Whiplash. And while she creates a natural world, its pace is tough to stick with.

Michelle Williams is Lizzy, a sculptor and administrator at Oregon College of Art and Craft. The main obstacles between Lizzy and her artistic fulfilment are certainly relatable ones – simply finding time to put towards her craft is interrupted by her cat attacking a pigeon (who then must be cared for), checking in with her family, and constantly asking her friend/landlord Jo to fix her hot water so she can finally shower at home. Unfortunately, the natural tone of the film means that even the moments Lizzy can finally devote to her sculptures feel cold and stale. Music is used sparsely and lighting is very natural which can feel lifeless when buried in Lizzy's garage and pottering around her apartment. Williams plays Lizzy with a perpetual look of worry and mentally soldiering on – relatable to art types, yes, but not varied enough to carry me through the film's runtime.

Hong Chau as Jo is one of the few things I found myself grasping onto out of sheer relatable frustration. Jo is more confident than Lizzy and, through some familial help, is in a much more comfortable situation to devote the time she needs to her art. There's a balance of jealousy and genuine annoyance in the Lizzy-Jo friendship as Jo repeatedly puts tasks like setting up a tyre swing ahead of her tenant. Lizzy's family is less interesting, which includes her co-worker and mother (Maryann Plunkett), naive father (Judd Hirsch) and difficult but apparent genius brother (John Magaro). Agnst from Lizzy about them attending her show does build to some bickering that means characters can finally bounce off each other, but this is too late in the film to lead down any interesting roads.

Source: The Movie Database

Showing Up is a slow gamble that I fear will lose many people along the way. Its 108 minutes feel much longer and I slowly disliked the entire environment Lizzy operated in. The Oregon College of Art is presented as lax and without much structure – certainly in the way of support. Too many small characters drift around either completing their own projects or smiling politely and saying whatever Lizzy is doing will be great. These aren't disingenuous people, and they do all show up for Lizzy when her show arrives, but everyone seems to think everything either is or will turn out just fine. The whole endeavour can be summed up by an exchanged between Lizzy and fellow artist Eric (Andre Benjamin) when they see one of Lizzy's pieces has burned in the college's kiln:

ERIC: [It] Must've been burning hot on one side. It's a little funky, but... I don't mind imperfections. In fact, I like them. I prefer it. Think it looks cool. Don't you?
LIZZY: Not really.

Showing Up is a little funky but rewarding if you don't mind the imperfections. Some people will actually prefer them. Did I? Sadly, not really.