Whenever you have an almost 40% difference between the Critics Score and the Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, you know there is a big problem with the movie being reviewed. That is definitely the case with Certain Women, which has a 90%, Critics Score and a 53% Audience Score. The Critics obviously found much more than the audience in this art-house film starring Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristin Stewart. I really admire the work of these three actresses and they were quite good in this film but it wasn’t enough to cause audiences to enjoy this slow burning Indy. Some of disparity in scores might be attributed to the fact that this is a chick flick and RT is dominated by males but even the “chicks” I know who have seen the movie didn’t care for it.
The film is adapted from a series of short stories. It has a couple of very loose connections between a couple of characters but basically the stories stand-alone. All three take place around Livingston Montana as winter closes in on this small town. The first stars Laura Dern as an attorney unable to help a client with a workplace injury because he had already signed away his rights. He becomes violent and she deals with it in a compassionate but distant way. The second story is about Gina (Michelle Williams) and her husband who are building a house outside the town and their teenage daughter. This is the least flushed out plot of the three as we learn virtually nothing about the source of her flawed family relationships or why this causes Gina to pursue getting a pile of sandstone for her house. The final story is the best and depicts Kristin Stewart as an attorney (Beth) who takes a gig teaching school law to some teachers in a town four hours away. She meets a young woman played by Lily Gladstone who is mesmerizing in her role as a caretaker for farm horses that becomes enamored by Beth and seeks a relationship with her.
The power of this movie is showing uncertain women going about their daily lives in quiet desperation without achieving the respect they should from their families and business relationships. The Director gives us just a quick glance into these lives without providing any kind of history or resolution to their stories. The first story is ok with Laura Dern lovely to watch as she struggles with her existence. The second story is the weakest but the third story about unrequited love is moving due primarily to the understated acting of Gladstone in a breakthrough performance. Stewart plays her role perfectly and again reminds us how far she has come since Twilight. The cinematography is fantastic as it captures the bleakness of winter descending on this bleak Montana town. Kelly Reichardt , the Director, has created a quiet, subtle film with beautiful scenery, wonderful acting and a plot that will cause most people to go running away from the theater in pain.
I missed this terrific film this summer due to my schedule but it is now available on Video on Demand through all the regular services. This is a movie, unlike Certain Women, that the critics and the audience completely agree on and they all like it. It is the story of Ben, played by Viggo Mortensen who is bringing up his children in the Pacific Northwest wilderness. They hunt, read whatever they can and eschew traditional religions, modern society and Corporate America. Ben’s wife has been institutionalized for mental illness and subsequently commits suicide, which sets the story in motion. He takes his kids to their mother’s funeral in New Mexico and his wife’s family is not particular welcoming of his alternative lifestyle and threaten to take the children away.
Ben has to deal with his uncompromising personality when it becomes clear that his lifestyle choices have a negative impact on at least some of his children and his wife. Mortensen is superb in this role which he displays the conflicting emotions of tenderness, fierceness and an unyielding dedication to his philosophy. Also great is George MacKay who plays his eldest son Bo. You may remember him as Billy in Pride. The rest of the kids are also quite good. Of course the supporting cast of Frank Langella, Ann Dowd, Kathryn Hahn and others are all heavy hitters who nail their small but important parts. The ending of the film doesn’t quite hold together as there is no reason to believe that Ben’s wife’s family isn’t going to further pursue him but other than that, Captain Fantastic is a great little film that just about everyone should enjoy.