Directed by Kelly Reichardt and starring Michelle Williams and Hong Chau, Showing Up is a new A24 dramedy about balancing family and art.
Kelly Reichardt loves making small movies about big feelings. Her director’s pen is sharper and more personal than ever in Showing Up, which posits (perhaps) two sides of her own artistic persona. There’s the antisocial Lizzy (Michelle Williams, in her fourth collaboration with Reichardt) and the more outspoken, fun-loving Jo (Hong Chau, who’s on quite a roll after her recent performances in The Menu and The Whale). Both women are artists. They’re both quite talented. But their differing approaches to creativity and the people around them leads to a compelling tale about sharing your entire self, flaws and all, with the world.
Initially premiering at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival and competing for the Palme d’Or, Showing Up couldn’t be much humbler in its presentation. To make the various types of art shown throughout have their true time to shine, the picture itself is grainy, unremarkable, and at times jerky and unpredictable in the camera work. Likely on purpose. It takes imperfect people to make beautiful things, perhaps because the most beautiful things are easier to appreciate and connect to when they’re imperfect. The same applies to family.
“I’m making a piece. It’s a very major piece. Very major.”
In that sense, the movie mainly follows the daily life of Lizzy, who wears crocs, owns a tabby cat, lives alone, and makes sculptures in her garage studio. Her day job consists of making flyers for more successful artists at an Oregon-based art studio, which pains even further when we discover that this place bears the namesake of her father (Judd Hirsch), while her mother (Maryann Plunkett) happens to be her boss. You can start to see why Lizzy has a tough time connecting to people, though not by contrast to her “possibly genius” brother (John Magaro), who’s even more of an eccentric recluse.
The film is even more soulful and introspective when we watch Lizzy’s striking rivalry unfold with Jo, her next-door neighbor and landlord. A lesser film would focus more overtly on the differences between their art and success at it thus far, but the real inciting incident with them is the caring of a pigeon with a broken wing, found in their backyard. Jo’s approach to care for this animal comes off as saintly at first, but we see more to Lizzy’s outlook on the world as she ends up being the more considerate of the two.
Though their respective performances aren’t the most obviously engaging compared to others in their career, this is probably the most intriguing work I’ve personally seen from Williams and Chau in years. For Williams in particular, I could easily see myself choosing her take in Showing Up as my favorite from her someday. Williams is usually willing to be an extra kind of wonderfully vulnerable in her work, just look at The Fabelmans quite recently. In Showing Up, she doesn’t need to show off quite so much for the impact to really land.
The bottom line.
Everything means something else, as one of the characters points out when elaborating on the truth behind “earth art.” And it’s not like Reichardt is coy about the metaphors and allegory inside her cozy, springtime comedy. No, she’s laying out simple ideas in simple ways, but letting the audience work a little harder for the truth of the matter, if they want it. Art is a two-way conversation, and if she did all the talking, we’d be left with something small in the wrong ways.
Showing Up is now playing in select theaters and expands on April 14. Watch the trailer here.
Images courtesy of A24.
SHOWING UP - 8/10