SHOWING UP and Being Stuck

Michelle Williams teams up again with director Kelly Reichardt, this time as an annoyed artist

Michelle Williams in SHOWING UP. Photo by Allyson Riggs, Courtesy of A24

Indie director Kelly Reichardt takes us from the 19th Century setting of her previous film, First Cow, to a modern Oregon art school in her new work, Showing Up. Michelle Williams stars as Lizzy, a single sculptor whose chosen medium is clay, who works for her mom Jean (stage actress Maryann Plunkett) in the school’s administrative office. Her apartment has been without hot water for weeks and her free-spirited landlady Jo (Hong Chau) — also her friend and fellow artist — is too obsessed with prepping for an upcoming show to do much about it.

Hong Chau in SHOWING UP. Photo by Allyson Riggs, Courtesy of A24

One gets the sense that Lizzy is just getting by in her life. The film opens with her concept sketches on a wall, and we witness her in the midst of creating pieces for her own imminent show. But as a new instructor at the school mentions that a friend and gallery owner from New York might be coming to the show, Lizzy’s response lacks real excitement or immediacy. Perhaps she’s been disappointed enough times that her optimism has run out. Williams maintains a slouched posture in her portrayal of Lizzy, and wears a wardrobe full of tans and browns. It’s as if the character doesn’t expect to garner much attention either for herself or her art.

(L-R) Michelle Williams, Maryann Plunkett in SHOWING UP. Photo by Allyson Riggs, Courtesy of A24

The strongest emotion Lizzy displays is outright frustration. She’s annoyed at having to be the mediator between her aging divorced parents (Judd Hirsch plays her dad, a daffy ceramics artist with selective memory), unappreciated by her unemployed brother (John Magaro, First Cow), and jealous of the success her friend Jo is experiencing within their shared profession. She leaves passive aggressive voice mail in a fit of anger; admittedly I found it far-fetched that this character with introverted tendencies wouldn’t text anyone instead of calling them.

The two friends share caretaking of an injured pigeon that Jo finds (never mind that Lizzy’s tabby cat Ricky is the cause of the bird’s injury). This animatronic pigeon becomes the soul and symbol at the center of Showing Up. Just like Lizzy, this bird is stuck in its current situation and muddling through. But would she fly away, if given a chance?

Showing Up opens in Austin this weekend at AFS Cinema.

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