SHOWING UP Review: Wry Creator Compulsion Comedy
Michelle Williams, Hong Chau and Judd Hirsch star; Kelly Reichardt directed.
Michelle Williams plays Lizzy in this wry comedy about the perseverance of artists and their compulsion to keep on creating, directed by Kelly Reichardt (First Cow, Certain Women).
Showing Up is as guileless and minimalistic as usual with all Reichardt’s films, and acutely conveys what it is like to be a middle-aged working artist, who struggles with self-doubt, professional jealousy, social ineptness, and so forth, yet keeps chugging along, because creating art is the only thing they know.
Lizzy is a frumpy sculptor who works at an art college in a woodsy small town in Oregon. She has a new art show coming up at a small gallery in town but is having a hard time concentrating on her work, because life keeps getting in the way.
Her landlord Jo (Hong Chau, Watchmen series), who is also an artist and is preoccupied by her two upcoming shows, keeps delaying fixing the boiler. Lizzy's cat is intent on destroying everything she owns, and her divorced parents are always pestering her, ever so slightly trying to undermine her achievements in that typical parents' way.
We are introduced to a smalltown art community that exists in every quaint college town where everyone knows each other; Lizzy’s mom is also an administrator at the college and shares an office where she works. There are annoying colleagues who are less than cooperative at sharing the workload, and others she has the hots for but won’t reciprocate her feelings back, and even worse, sleep with her nemesis number one, Jo.
In many films on art and art-making, the centerpiece is usually the art itself. In those films, we are reminded of the transformative power of art and the suffering the artists must endure to produce sublime masterpieces that inspire us all. In Reichardt’s film, the art itself is secondary. The perserverance of their creators is given primary attention.
Williams embodies this down-and-out creative person without all the backstories written down for her. It’s in her dour mannerisms. It’s in her unsmiling expressions. It’s in her pair of white Crocs and her baggy sweatpants. It’s in her stares of envy when she sees Jo’s large installation pieces.
Andre Benjamin is great as a hunky colleague from the school; so is Judd Hirsh as a somewhat famous artist-dad who is very supportive, and so is Maryann Plunkett as a judgmental mom. Hong Chau shines as Jo, a self-confident talented artist who is better in every department in life than Lizzy. But however different they are, at their stages in life, there is a mutual admiration for their craft because no matter what, they share the same compulsion to create.
Unlike the cynical satire of Art School Confidential or Ghost World, where every art school cliché is closely examined and made fun of, Showing Up is stripped down to concentrate on the act of creating. When we were young and in art school, we all thought that we were going to be a famous artist someday, having our work shown in New York galleries, and becoming rich and famous. Some of our peers did become successful in their careers, but most of us didn’t.
As we grow older, us creative types take day jobs to make a living, and do our art on the side. We discuss and lament about not choosing the more lucrative professions, whatever that might have been. We lament about us getting close to making it. But as luck would have it, we didn’t while others did. There’s certain melancholy associated with that. But we don't dwell on that anymore. Life goes on.
At some point, though, the validation of what we do -- what is good and what is not -- doesn’t come from fame and fortune, but within ourselves. What else can we do, other than keep doing what we love to do, which is to create? The joy and validation come from within us. Reichardt knows this from experience. And she presents it gently and beautifully.
Showing Up is emblematic of the small pleasures we get from our creations that success doesn’t measure in fame and fortune. It’s self-satisfaction of showing up every day to your studio (or basement, or shed, or garage) and creating.
This perserverance manifests itself in the form of a pigeon who was attacked by Lizzy's cat and taken in first by Jo, because of course, she knows how to fix the broken wing of a pigeon, then handed down to take care of by Lizzy, who secretly feels guilty. But the bird wouldn't die! And finally flies away at Lizzy's art show opening night.
Funny and light yet packed with so much daily life wisdom, with great, natural performances by everyone involved, Showing Up continues to showcase Reichardt as a unique voice in the American film scene.
Originally published during the New York Film Festival in October 2022. The film opens Friday, April 7, in U.S. movie theaters, and then Friday, April 14, in Canada. Visit the official A24 Films site for more information.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on everything cinema and beyond can be found at www.dustinchang.com
- Kelly Reichardt
- Jonathan Raymond
- Kelly Reichardt
- Michelle Williams
- Hong Chau
- André 3000