Director Kelly Reichardt assembled an all-star cast to bring three stories by fiction writer Maile Meloy to the screen. I don't know the author's work but each story has a distinct drive and theme, and it's great to see these women perform.
The first story is the best because it is suspenseful. Laura (Laura Dern) is a lawyer for a man (Jared Harris) who was tricked into settling an unfavorable worker's comp claim. His desperation turns hostile and dangerous and she's caught between her client and the law.
It's already compelling to see how Laura keeps calm to handle a volatile client, but when he turns violent, it's the stuff of Hitchcock. She's called to the scene of his standoff and the whole procedure of putting on a Kevlar vest, looking for his file, all the while answering his questions, is tense. Harris plays a sympathetic villain, because we see how negligence and manipulation lead people to resort to deadly attacks. He's still attacking the wrong people though, and we're rooting for Laura to talk him down.
The second story is a negotiation. Michelle Williams stars as Gina, a mother who wants pieces of building materials left over from a relative's (Rene Auberjonois) estate. It seems a small personal matter but you can tell it has sentimental value and is a big decision for these characters.
Kristen Stewart at Sundance. HollywoodReporter.com
The third story is the weakest. Kristen Stewart plays a teacher of education law. She plays it shy and reserved, but strikes up a friendship with a student (Lily Gladstone). This one sort of rambles with their casual meetings and the student going home to her ranch to do chores. We even see her doing laundry. I think the point of this story was loneliness, but it loses the audience with too much stagnation.
Certain Women is worth seeing for the first story alone, but the second is compelling too. They are small town stories that remind us that everything is important to the people experiencing them, and there is drama everywhere you look if you pay attention.