'Showing Up' Review
July 17, 2021
Showing Up premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. A24 will release the film at a later date.
As Woody Allen once said: “80% of success is just showing up.” But for the character of Lizzy (Michelle Williams) in Kelly Reichardt’s Showing Up, which premiered in competition recently at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, showing up doesn’t seem to be leading to much. She has a sort-of career at a small arts college in Portland, complete with her mother as her boss and Andre 3000 as the flirty pottery expert. Her cat owns her personal life with around-the-clock needs for attention, and her neighbor/landlord, Jo (Hong Chau), still hasn’t fixed her water heater after two weeks of constant requests. Is Woody Allen wrong, or is this all her life is cracked up to be? Either way, it’s not a comforting thought.
Reichardt’s work has been infrequent, yet always well-reviewed. 2008’s Wendy and Lucy marked the first of many collaborations between the director and Williams, followed by Meek’s Cutoff and Certain Women. But even with those great reviews, Reichardt’s films have never lit the box office on fire. First Cow, seemingly an epic in comparison to her other work, was prevented from having a chance due to its unlucky release during the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maybe as an act of self-commentary, all of that can also be said of Lizzy in Showing Up. Sculpting intimate creations, Lizzy’s work has always been appreciated but never put on the same pedestal as her contemporaries, such as Jo and her unwieldy creations. Lizzy is struggling to meet the deadline for her new exhibit, and questions whether she should even attempt to show up.
In its low-key nature, Showing Up can be a comforting ode to small artists persevering to put their creations into the world. Just as Reichardt often sleeps on people’s couches and teaches at Bard College (all of which was revealed by Michelle Williams), Lizzy has to put up with no hot water and a never-ending litany of problems to finish her work. And taking the connecting through-line of the bond between humans and animals from First Cow, Reichardt finds a way for Lizzy’s life to be upended, and ultimately transformed, by a pigeon that injures itself by crashing into her window.
Both sides of the debate will correctly say that not much happens in Showing Up. But for those that are familiar with Reichardt's work, is that much of a surprise? Plot has never been on the priority list. Ditto to pacing, as Reichardt, serving as her editor as always, lets the credits roll in extended fashion across the first several minutes, and makes time for Williams to meticulously craft the arms to one of her sculptures in an unbroken take.
With that slow pacing, Reichardt has often been able to mine deep and expose the hidden feelings that faster-paced works can’t. Not many could carefully tell the uplifting and heartbreaking friendship within First Cow. Showing Up tries to find a similar vein but doesn’t deliver the same refined fulfilling message about the way unforeseen people and circumstances shape our lives. Unlike Lizzy’s clay creations that start as wet messes and end up as fully formed creations, Reichardt’s work stops just short of the kiln and ends up feeling more like a shallow puddle of good ideas.
Showing Up won’t win Reichardt any new fans, but it could potentially offer another helping of what her supporters love so much. For them, Reichart has supplied the goods, now it’s time for them to show up.