The art of 'Showing Up'

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday April 25, 2023
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Michelle Williams in 'Showing Up' (A24)
Michelle Williams in 'Showing Up' (A24)

Who would have imagined that not one, but two movies about art would be opening in theaters at the same time? If you're not in the mood for Brit McAdams wacky "Paint," starring Owen Wilson, and want something more serious, albeit more low key, on your canvas, consider Kelly Reichardt's "Showing Up" (A24), her fourth collaboration with Michelle Williams.

Lizzy (Williams) is a Portland-based artist who supports herself by working at a local art school. It's unclear if she got the job because she's a visual artist or because her mother Jean (Maryann Plunkett), is a kind of muckety-muck on the campus.

Regardless, Lizzy is not a happy camper. The apartment she rents from fellow artist/neighbor Jo (Hong Chau) hasn't had hot water for a long period of time. Lizzy, in desperate need of a shower, relentlessly hounds the indifferent Jo.

A less than subtle competition exists between Lizzy and Jo as well. Lizzy is in the process of putting together a solo gallery show of her ceramic figurine sculptures, while Jo is prepping for two shows of her artwork running concurrently.

When Lizzy is awoken one night to the sound of her bad cat Ricky torturing a pigeon, she carefully takes the injured bird outside where it is discovered by Jo the next morning. Suddenly thrust into the shared roles of nursemaids, Lizzy and Jo look after nursing the bird back to health, beginning with Jo wrapping it in an Ace bandage.

In addition to her day job and preparing for her gallery show, the put-upon Lizzy adds caretaker to her daily routine. Furthermore, her separated (and sniping) parents, potter Bill (Judd Hirsch) and administrator Jean, don't make her life any easier. Lizzy is worried that Bill's endless stream of houseguests, including Dorothy (Amanda Plummer) and Lee (Matt Malloy) are taking advantage of him.

Jean, meanwhile, is more comfortable heaping praise on others, such as Jo, than she is on her own daughter. As if that wasn't enough, Lizzy is concerned that her brother Sean (John Magaro) is headed for another in a series of psychotic breaks.

The movie's title has a sort of double meaning. It not only applies to the one-upmanship occurring between Lizzy and Jo, but to quote Woody Allen, "Showing up is 80 percent of life," meaning that even though she's uncomfortable in social situations, Lizzy must be present.

To loosely paraphrase another great writer, Anton Chekhov, if there's a pigeon with a broken wing in the first act, it better take flight in the second act. Which it does, in what is easily the movie's most lighthearted moment.

"Showing Up" also has an interesting supporting cast, featuring André Benjamin, James Le Gros, and Heather Lawless, but they're not really given much to do, other than just showing up when needed. Rating: B

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