Cannes 2022: Kelly Reichardt Sculpts Dull & Aimless 'Showing Up'
by Alex Billington
May 27, 2022
Sometimes we really do need some direction in life. Wandering around without any real plans or hopes or dreams can only take you so far - wisdom for all of us to consider. One of the last films to premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival is the latest from acclaimed American indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, her highly anticipated follow-up to the award-winning First Cow. As a huge fan of First Cow, and an admirer of her early minimal films like Old Joy and Wendy & Lucy, I was looking forward to seeing what she has been working on. Alas, Showing Up one of her worst films so far, an aimless and drab creation that is nothing more than a meandering showcase of entirely uninteresting artists who have never made anything of value but still keep going. It seems after First Cow all she could possibly think of was to film in her own backyard, walking around her neighborhood and honestly, I hope she never does this again. Please go anywhere else.
I really do not enjoy writing so negatively about a film, and I don't often write negative reviews, but I can't help myself this time. This new film is just so miserable and dull and useless that I need to rant about its worthless existence. Showing Up stars Reichardt's muse Michelle Williams as a local Portland sculptor, who seems to have never achieved any fame or success, and probably never will. Her parents also come from the art world and put immense pressure on her. The story follows Lizzie over the course of a week or so as she prepares for an exhibition, following her around an art community much like Linklater's classic Dazed & Confused, as she interacts with and passes by other various artists. I suppose the title is a reference to the fact that making art (for a living) sucks and is often a joyless job, with most of the effort coming from simply "showing up" to do the work. But in the end, the film is as joyless & uninspired as the sculptures she makes.
I don't know how anyone likes Showing Up – it drifts around this art community in Portland without any purpose or point, fleeting and useless in its attempt to show how these artists have nothing interesting or creative to offer the world. Just like the film itself. A big shame because she has made better films before. It almost feels like an autobiographical exploration of the challenges of making art, and how it can sometimes be such a strange, awkard, & frustrating process. Fellow artists can be assholes, while pretending to be nice and show up at your show, while other artists are making fascinating things effortlessly all around you. Then you somehow get it all together at the last minute, but your favorite piece of art is irreversibly burned in the kiln, and you just have to accept it even though you don't like it. And on the opening night of the exhibition, the unpredictability of nature threatens to destroy everything. Until your own weirdo brother saves the day.
I much prefer Kelly Reichardt's other minimal films that have so much more substance and depth in their simplicity. This is just her trying to replicate Dazed & Confused but for the up-and-coming art scene and she has absolutely nothing to say here except that making bad art is still hard to do. Wow, how exciting. It is a painfully minimalist film that's as uninspired and flavorless as the cheese squares that they leave out at her sculpture exhibition. I couldn't be less interested in discussing how it relates to making art when all of these artists and everyone in this is producing the most boring artwork you'll ever see. Even the sculptures she makes look just like the heaps of junk that my 3rd grade classmates produced in art class when we were growing up. Why is this a meaningful story? Why do we need to spend time with these folks and what makes them worthy subjects? I'd rather go back and eat some more of those tasty oily cakes from First Cow again.