‘Showing Up’ Review: A Realistic Depicting of the Struggling Artist (New York Film Festival 2022)

Cinema has a rich history of romanticizing the artist, from extravagant biopics to heavy-handed dramas and everything in between. The artist and his struggles have always felt very otherworldly and ethereal. Sometimes though, the artist doesn’t have some existential nightmare of trying to make it as an artist; the actual struggle they face is whether they have a hot shower or not. This is the case with Kelly Reichardt’s newest film Showing Up, where she chooses to depict the struggling artist as something more grounded, authentic, and unintentionally funny.

Showing Up stars Michelle Williams as Lizzy, a sculptor on the cusp of opening her new art show, where she must navigate her friends and family as she tries to make it as an artist.  She’s joined by a supporting cast of her neighbors and fellow artists Jo Tran (Hong Chau), her father Bill (Judd Hirsch), her artistic colleague Eric (Andre ‘3000’ Benjamin), and so on. The film is decidedly very low-key and minimalistic, showcasing the mundane and unassuming life of the struggling artist. Elements like being in a creative rut, taking care of a pigeon, and yearning for a hot shower are what these characters in Reichardt’s world have to deal with for the film’s runtime. It gives a fresh perspective and an honest depiction of the lives of artists trying to make it. 

As a filmmaker and being surrounded by artists of all mediums, I see what the director is going for when structuring her movie and depicting the characters in the way that she does. They feel genuine and earnest, mainly preoccupied with the anxiety of not being able to deliver on time for a specific deadline. Also seeing artists acting eccentric among other eccentric individuals is very authentic. There’s finally a sense of finding commonality with other artists with similar values and eclectic tastes that also feels true to what its like being in these spaces. The sequences in the art school mirror with my own experiences studying in an art school. The ambiance and the people surrounding it make you feel like you are part of their oddball world. You get this sense of inspiration from seeing creators create. The attention to detail regarding the artists producing their works of art is pretty spot on as well.  

Michelle Williams provides an unassuming, peculiar, unorthodox, jealous, and finicky performance as the ever-doubtful Lizzy. She plays well off of Hong Chau’s Jo Tran, and their weird frenemy dynamic was charming and hilarious at times. Seeing Lizzy admire and silently despise Tran’s achievements and artistic pieces was fascinating and pretty relatable if you’re immersed in this world. The exchange and the sarcastic line delivery work efficiently to bring forth some laughs from the audience, especially with the increasingly bizarre circumstances the characters get themselves into as the film progresses.  

The pieces Lizzy creates for her art show (represented by actual works by Portland artist Cynthia Lahti) are phenomenal and very specific to the character Williams is portraying. They feel like pieces created by her character and exemplify many of the emotions the character is going through. The cinematography and pacing are very straightforward.  The movie is paced well enough and feels brisk as we navigate the machinations of our lead as she desperately prepares for her deadline. Sometimes the scenes are divided by montages showcasing the other art students working on their craft, which gives the audience a glimpse into this world, and all the intricacies it portrays.

Showing Up is a loving tribute to an obscure artist who has hopes of making their craft and showing it to whoever is willing to consume it. The film never mocks the artist but instead portrays the endearing, albeit anxiety-inducing, aspect of what it’s like to survive doing the things you love.

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