Yes, lots of people will be bored in the theater, even though the plot eventually delivers hostage negotiations, prison visits, and illicit lesbian crushes. But the gorgeous, impressively empty landscape makes every small face that appears beneath it seem interesting and important. Reichardt is no stranger to the West, and the Oregon she portrays in her 2008 film Wendy and Lucy is melancholy and perfect. In Certain Women, every minute expression holds tremendous weight—which she uses to communicate the small yet crushing frustrations that come with being a woman.
A lawyer realizes her words are less powerful than her male colleague's; an old man prefers to speak to the husband instead of the wife. At some points this veers towards the rich, white feminism we know so well—but thankfully, in a cast of white stars (Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Kristen Stewart) the best actress is non-white and a relative newcomer: Lily Gladstone.
Gladstone plays Jamie, a Native American ranch hand who stumbles into a night class on school law, and falls in love with her teacher, Beth (Kristen Stewart). Jamie, through devoted practice and conscious effort, walks like a person, without the grace or obvious calculation of a performer. Her desire is conveyed through her eyes and through the smallest of actions: She walks slowly, hoping for Beth to catch up, or sits in a diner without eating just to enjoy Beth's company. In the film's major romantic story line there's no kiss, no sex—just the two women on a horse, Beth's arms gently wrapped around Jamie's waist. Like the rest of the film, it's understated and beautiful.