Today, especially in a place like Portland, it’s a given that almost anyone can be an artist. It wasn’t always that way, of course. For most of history, you generally had to be either immensely privileged, with the time and materials to perfect one’s art, or obsessively driven, willing to neglect all other aspects of life in favor of the act of creation. At least that’s how it’s always been in the movies.
Showing Up, the latest and fourth collaboration between director Kelly Reichardt and star Michelle Williams, explores the experience of making art while simultaneously trying to live a normal-ish life. Williams plays Lizzy, a Portland sculptor trying to prepare for an upcoming show while juggling a job, family issues, and the lack of hot water in her home. It’s a quietly captivating corrective to the generally melodramatic depictions of the artistic life. Lizzy is neither a genius nor a lunatic, but something much more relatable and inspiring.
Reichardt filmed at the former home of the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts, giving the scenes set there an added poignancy for Oregon audiences. (The school shut down in 2019.) It’s there that Lizzy works in administration, with her mother (Maryann Plunkett) as her boss. Judd Hirsch plays Williams’ character’s father, mere months after playing her uncle in The Fabelmans. (In that film, his Uncle Boris says that “art is dangerous as a lion’s mouth,” a sentiment this movie does not share.)
In addition to dealing with her emotionally unstable brother (John Magaro), Lizzy must also contend with her neighbor and landlord Jo (Hong Chau, recently Oscar nominated for The Whale and even better in The Menu), who can’t seem to find the time to fix Lizzy’s hot water since she’s also an artist preparing for an upcoming show. (Oh, Portland.)
If this all makes Showing Up sound like a frantic race-to-the-gallery story, I apologize for the mistake. Reichardt and frequent co-writer Jon Raymond are much more interested in calmly tagging along while Lizzy crafts the elegant, brightly colored female figures that are her métier. (In a bit of unexpected casting, Outkast member André Benjamin plays the art college’s kiln master.)
Williams, unsurprisingly, is utterly convincing in a role that’s determinedly low-key, more so than in any of her work for Reichardt since their first pairing in 2008’s Wendy and Lucy. She inhabits Lizzy’s quiet perseverance and imperfect focus, her ability and seeming desire to disappear into her process and her work, not as an escape from reality’s distractions, but as a way to process them into an expression of truth. And yet, the movie never romanticizes that process, keeping it firmly rooted in the material labor without which artists would remain mere dreamers.
That’s the real message: all the inspiration in the world doesn’t get you anywhere without putting in the time, which means having the time to put in. In other words, you have to show up. It is, after all, 80% of success.
ALSO THIS WEEK:
Irreversible: The Straight Cut: French troublemaker Gaspar Noé’s 2002 film starring Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci is one of the most notorious and disturbing of all time. It begins with a brutal beating in a nightclub and then proceeds in reverse chronological order to relate the even more brutal events which led up to it, notably a horrific, extended rape scene in an underground pedestrian tunnel. That said, like Noé’s best work, it also contains more than a kernel of philosophical integrity and makes an indelible point about the transience of joy and the inevitability of loss. It should be interesting to see how it all plays in the new, linear cut that’s been prepared. That version screens on Friday night at Cinema 21, followed by the original, reversed version on Saturday.
2023 Italian Film Festival USA: The annual event returns to in-person screenings with two weekends of recent hits from the land of popes and pasta. A total of eight features, one documentary, and a program of short films will play at Portland State University’s 5th Avenue Cinema, except for the opening night screenings at Lincoln High School. By design, these movies are unheralded in this country, but some star power on display includes Penélope Cruz in L’immensità and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi in Aspromonte, Land of the Forgotten. There’s also a fascinating documentary about the iconic Anna Magnani on tap. Runs April 14-16 and 21-23 at Lincoln High School and the 5th Avenue Cinema.
Portland EcoFilm Festival: As Earth Day approaches, the EcoFilm Festival showcases a weekend’s worth of screenings. Friday’s programming includes Finite: The Climate of Change, an inspiring documentary about activists taking direct action to hamper a new coal mine in Britain and the expansion of another in Germany; Saturday afternoon brings a quartet of aquatic-themed films, including a visually stunning look at life in Dutch freshwater canals; and that evening features an enraging examination of the perilous fate of wild horses in the American Southwest. There’s also an all-ages Climate Storytelling workshop on Sunday. (Friday, Apr. 14, through Sunday, Apr. 16, at the Hollywood Theatre.)
Ithaka: Documentary about Julian Assange’s father’s efforts to free the founder of WikiLeaks and prevent his extradition to the United States. (Friday, Apr. 14, Salem Cinema, Kiggins Theater.)
Fast Break: Perhaps the perfect thing to wash the taste of the just-concluded Trail Blazers season would be attending this screening of the beloved, intimate documentary about the only team so far to bring an NBA title to Portland, way back in 1977. Dedicated to the memory of Bill Schonely, and followed by a Q&A between author Larry Colton and programmer Greg Hamilton. (Sunday, Apr. 16, Clinton St. Theater.)
The Bicycle Film Festival: The name kind of says it all. Now in its 23rd year, this internationally touring batch of shorts celebrates the glories of pedal power. All proceeds from this screening will go to Oregon Adaptive Sports, an organization that works to provide outdoor recreation opportunities to individuals with disabilities. (Thursday, Apr. 20, Cinema 21)
Robocop 2: A screening of the much-maligned sequel to Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 genre classic wouldn’t be of much note, but this one will be accompanied by a live, improvised musical score from Portland artist Eatcho and musician Alex Meltzer of local beat-making duo Korgy & Bass. Should be interesting! (Thursday, Apr. 20, Clinton Street Theater.)
420 Toke-tacular: The Ultimate Rip in 16mm: The archival collection known as Astral Projections yields this smorgasbord of vintage oddities, presumably designed with today’s savvy cannabis consumer in mind. Should be interesting. (Thursday, Apr. 20, Hollywood Theatre.)