"...nothing major happens in Showing Up, so every little thing is important..."

A Bird’s Eye View of Struggling Artist

(061523) Hollywood has made plenty of notable films about celebrated artists. From "The Agony and the Ecstasy" (1965) about Michelangelo to "Basquiat" (1998) about the title artist to "Love is the Devil" (1998), about Francis Bacon and "At Eternity’s Gate" (2018) about Vincent Van Gogh, just to name a few. But Showing Up is a different animal altogether. It’s an outstanding film about the struggles of a mediocre artist who may not get famous and may not deserve it either.

Showing Up was put out by A21 Productions, one of the most creative film studios out there. Whenever they drop a film you know it will be probably be something special. Some of the more celebrated works they've made include: Moonlight (2016), Ladybird (2017), The Florida Project (2017), Eighth Grade (2018), Minari (2020), Pearl (2021), Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021), and Everything Everywhere all at Once (2022).

The film was made by Kelly Reichardt who previously directed Certain Women (2016) and First Cow (2018) both of which made many critics’ top 10 films of the year lists including mine. She is known for having strong mercurial female protagonists in her films, often portrayed by her favorite collaborator: Michelle Williams. They have had one of the more fruitful director/actress relationships in all cinema, and they have worked together on Wendy and Lucy (2008), Meek’s Cutoff (2010), Certain Women (2016), and now this one. Also this film teams up Michelle Williams again with Judd Hirsch who worked together last year on Spielberg’s "The Fablemans".

Reichardt is one of the primary American practitioners of what is called slow cinema. Slow cinema is influenced by classic film makers like Michelangelo Antonioni, Abbas Kiarostami, and Andrei Tarkovsky who are known for taking their time to tell a story if they tell one at all. Slow cinema tends to have long takes (no quick cutting) and it tends to be observational rather than judgmental. It is also minimalistic and has very little plot. It has been said that films in this genre are uncinematic and they make us feel like we are just “eavesdropping on reality” and many of the people in the films seem less like characters in big scenes than real people passing through.

Michelle Williams who looked super glamorous in such films as Blue Valentine (2010) and My Week with Marilyn (2011) is made up to look frumpy and plain playing Lizzy here. She’s a struggling artist whose main concern is getting the peace and quiet she needs in order to produce her work.

She has a tumultuous up and down relationship with Jo Tran, her friend and landlord (played by Hong Chau who won a best supporting actress Oscar for The Whale). Jo Tran is also an artist but she is more of a yuppie than a bohemian, and she also comes off as a little overly pleased with herself and slightly conceited. She is flashier and more successful than Lizzy and makes her tenant feel lowly. Although the two sometimes get along, her landlord is dragging her feet getting the warm water turned back on in Lizzy’s apartment which peeves her off immensely. When Lizzy tries to remind her to fix it, Jo Tran reminds her how little she is paying in rent.

In Richardt’s last film, First Cow  one of the key big scenes revolves around a human interacting with an animal when a lonely poor man has a long one way conversation with his bovine companion. In this film some of the key scenes show Lizzy interacting with a bird. Lizzy agrees to watch Jo Tran’s pet pigeon with a hurt wing and it causes her much consternation. The pigeon starts moaning in pain and breathing irregularly letting Lizzy know there is something wrong. When talking to it soothingly fails, she ends up taking it to a veterinarian on the day she put aside to make art. The vet charges her $250 just to say the bird needs less stress which makes Lizzy herself more stressed.

Lizzy’s whole family are artists and they all constantly make Lizzy crazy. Unlike Lizzy, her parents were financially successful at their art, and they see Lizzy’s vocation as a mere hobby (she also works at their school). Her brother is a true eccentric and completely paranoid. He complains unconvincingly that the neighbors are out to get him, and they secretly conspired to mess up his cable TV so he even can’t watch Twilight Zone.

Since nothing major happens in Showing Up, so every little thing is important and things that would normally be seen as insignificant got strong reactions. I was surprised how amused then entertained then alarmed the audience became by just hearing an off screen pigeon make sick noises.

Showing Up is a fine, well developed Indy drama that is much better than it sounds. Its heightened sense of realism makes it stand out and the characters all better developed and “real” than the ones we see in most mainstream cinema. The film just misses greatness and it is only slightly less compelling than Reichardt’s Certain Women and First Cow, which are mandatory viewing for modern cinephiles.

Directed by:    Kelly Reichardt
Written by:    John Raymond and Kelly Reichardt
Starring:    Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, Maryann
Released:    04/07/23 (USA-wide)
Length:    108 minutes
Rating:     R for brief graphic nudity.
Available On:    At press time it was playing in selected theaters
 Available for streaming on Vudu on June 27

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to and His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

Come to the next session of the Monthly Poetry Show on the first Saturday on July 1 at Tangible Books in Bridgeport from 7-9 at 3324 South Halsted hosted by Vittorio Carli.
Special features will include Doc Wesier, Bob Lawrence, Clair “Fluff” Llewellyn, Ivan Ramos and Nicholas Michael Ravnikar

SHOWING UP © 2023  A21 Productions
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.


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