In the subtle and affecting Certain Women (based on stories by Maile Meloy), and following Meek's Cutoff and Night Moves, Kelly Reichardt -- with her usual attention to the humanity among the mundane and absurd -- again gives due credit to those who are too busy just getting on to care about big-city trivialities. Certain Women is a kind, loving and deeply moving portrait of bighearted small-town people.
Laura Dern is hilarious as Laura Wells, a lawyer who can't shake her deluded but sympathetic client Fuller (Jared Harris), their drama culminating in an off-kilter hostage situation that suggests a toned-down Coen Brothers flick. Reichardt's become known for her often aching portraits of women pushed to extremes, but watching her deftly handle comedy is a pleasant surprise. The humor also carries forward to the story of Gina Lewis, played by frequent Reichardt muse Michelle Williams. She's a homesteading gentrifier driven to build an "authentic" house with her elderly, distant neighbor Albert's (Rene Auberjonois) sandstone rubble. With just a few whittled-down words, Reichardt moves these characters into tricky and uncomfortable opposition: Old vs. New.
The breakout star here is actress Lily Gladstone. Her turn as Jamie -- a lonely ranch hand tending to some horses through the winter -- is an overwhelming heartbreaker. In bulky Carhartts and flannel, Jamie is nervous and awkward, trying her best to sit still and go unnoticed in a night school class that she's in because she spotted people filing into the building and followed them, only to be charmed by a similarly awkward instructor, Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart). Gladstone's face, even at rest, is absorbing, and if she doesn't get another worthy role soon, it will be a travesty.