Since I couldn’t watch my beautiful cow this March as I had been so looking forward to (I will see you when the theaters reopen, First Cow!), decided to just catch up on all the Kelly Reichardt films on Kanopy. I’ve now seen Certain Women, Wendy & Lucy, and Meek’s Cutoff, and have liked each more than the last, as it turns out!
I had enjoyed her Montana triptych Certain Women, but I always have this faint problem with anthology movies, ones that tell several short stories that are sort of in tonal conversation each other but rarely contain any of the same characters and do not have an overarching plot that links them (Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee & Cigarettes, would be another). I tend to skim along the surface of these, waiting to compare each section to the others instead of settling into the movie be a thing as a whole, which is not an ideal way for me personally to watch a movie.
Wendy & Lucy is quiet and localized and mostly just follows a woman around as she deals with things, which could also describe any of the stories in Certain Women, but this time it was the only story, the whole movie, and this worked on me so much better! I was gratified that as I expected, it was indeed that particular chapter structure, not Reichardt’s distinct style, that I hadn’t fully connected with earlier. And brunette Michelle Williams is so good here, my god. The ending didn’t occur to me until I saw it occur to Wendy, and then I just broke down. That’s some effective emotional storytelling!!
A few weeks later, in a new world, I sat down with Meek’s Cutoff, distantly glad I’d watched the one about a person without a financial or social safety net tumbling to the ground before a global pandemic shut down the economy. I was unconcerned about immersing myself in a bleak Oregon Trail story though, I guess because it was bleakness at an historical distance? There’s a sort of otherworldly quality to this particular movie as well. The characters feel human, old-timey naturalism not quite at Robert Eggers’ The Witch levels, but on the way there. But the setting they’re in is strange and extreme: an empty high plains desert, with all the stakes steadily narrowing to one specific focus: finding water.
I really dug Meek’s Cutoff. It’s the first Kelly Reichardt movie to have compelled me to remark appreciably “Oh fuck yeah”, at things like just an early establishing shot of Paul Dano carving something into a tree trunk. It still has that quality of meditative observation, most strongly felt in the way Reichardt films people carrying out tasks, but, on a relative scale, this one is noticeably more cinematic than her other movies I’ve seen. For instance, Meek’s Cutoff actually has a score. Suited to her work though, spare in a lingering, unresolved way.