Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Written by Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt.
We all have points of friction in our lives. Things, big and small, that irritate us. Depending on our headspace, those points of friction can shrink and swell in size: molehills become mountains and mountains become molehills, sometimes in the span of an afternoon.
Kelly Reichardt’s latest, Showing Up, is about those points of friction with our friends and family and set against an artist’s scramble to finish all the pieces for her upcoming exhibition, it offers a perfect juxtaposition of the otherworldly image of the art life and the very mundane circumstances art is most often produced in.
Preconceived notions of the art life are common: glamorous and eccentric. It sees people devote themselves to their work for days on end with the demands of the everyday not applicable to their genius. For Lizzy, sculptor, the demands of the everyday are numerous, intrusive, and at times, belittling.
She lives next door to a fellow artist and friend, but this person is also her landlord. A neat arrangement, if it wasn’t because she’s slow to fix things in Lizzy’s place, and that her more successful art practice is the reason for the tardiness. Lizzy must also pay the bills with something other than her art, and does so as an administrative assistant at an art school where her mom’s her boss. On the surface also neat, if it wasn’t that her mom seems to save her enthusiasm for people other than Lizzy.
Speaking of family life: Her parents are divorced and it’s tense between them. Lizzy’s worried about her dad who has a couple of freeloaders staying with him for no discernible reason. Worst yet, her brother’s going through a mental health crisis, and Lizzy feels like she’s the only one taking it seriously. And she’s still got to finish her show, now only a week away! Deep breaths.
Showing Up is another insightful look at life’s small struggles from Reichardt who has perhaps become the premier chronicler of mundaniety’s quiet dramas. The way she gets into the not-so-well-oiled mechanisms of family life recalls Yasujirō Ozu, who almost exclusively dealt with fraught dynamics between spouses, parents, children and siblings.
The tension and consequences of Reichardt’s films are not quite as devastating as Ozu’s, however, and Showing Up doesn’t gesticulate too wildly as the week leading up to Lizzy’s show passes by. Her frustration with all the small squabbles grows but confrontations rarely go further than an angry voice message, a stink face, or some heavy sighs. Underneath it all, you sense the love that allows for these outbursts and which remains through it all.
Yes, Showing Up is about life’s small dramas but it’s also about the bigger picture and how people who care for one another do come through in their own way. Lizzy, despite her remonstrations, would never turn her back on her friend, her mother, her dad, her brother, and even if Showing Up tells the story of one person’s growing exasperation with her immediate circumstances, it’s also heartwarming when you realize the deep bonds she enjoys in her life.
All of this falls flat without fully realized characters who feel plucked out of real life, but together with co-writer Jonathan Raymond, Reichardt’s achieved exactly that. Endlessly relatable, immensely enjoyable, Showing Up is a ride along in what could just as well be your own life, only it offers a knowing affirmation that things will be okay.
Throughout Showing Up, Reichard includes shots of students putting together their pieces. Young twentysomethings, unnamed and undefined, living only for their art at the moment. They likely think it’ll always be that way. Showing Up is the story about how it most likely won’t, and why that’s still okay.