Despite all their creativity, the life of an artist can be drab. Lizzy (Michelle Williams) looks like she’s spent one too many days watching paint dry, and her living conditions are less than ideal. She doesn’t shower much since her landlord and fellow artist Jo (Hong Chao) is taking her sweet time having Lizzy’s hot water fixed, and Lizzy’s patience is running thin.
Lizzy trods about living with her cat Ricky, and seemingly the only bits of excitement that come in her life are Ricky’s loud meows he bellows during his daily begging for food. Lizzy works as an artist at the now defunct Oregon College of Art and Craft and Showing Up is in a sense a homage to the artists who studied and created art at the college. At work, Lizzy is valuable, but her contributions and art go less noticed compared to that of Jo who nearly everyone takes the time to remark on her brilliance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jo is an egoist, but nevertheless has some charm that draws people to her.
It is about a week away from an art show consisting of Lizzy’s work. Lizzy creates small clay sculptures of people in motion, covered with vibrant color. She is busy busy, and there’s few others that help Lizzy maintain her sanity other than Eric (André Benjamin), a coworker who operates the kiln. Eric is the kindest character in Showing Up and is by far the most at ease at the College of Art. I imagine Eric here is not too unlike Benjamin himself, enjoying this phase of his career starring in arthouse films such as High Life and White Noise.
As the time gets closer to Lizzy’s show, her family troubles (and cat troubles) come into focus. Lizzy is worried about her father and brother, and it’s clear that she shoulders the burden of making sure everyone is okay. Lizzy’s father has some interesting guests that she views as squatters and her brother is unemployed and seemingly in a world of his own. Meanwhile Ricky almost kills a pigeon that Jo later finds after the attack, and Lizzy and Jo nurse the pigeon back to health. Lizzy feels burdened by the pigeon at first, but quickly develops a bond with it.
Like Reichardt’s films before it, Showing Up is minimalist in approach. Most of our experience when viewing the film is empathizing with, and even feeling pity for, Lizzy. She is more or less walked over by her family and peers, and often sulks from room to room. Her only deviation in body language occurs when she is deep at focus in her art, though she views her work at times as tedious. As a misstep, Showing Up is quick to let its final events unfold. There’s little catharsis to be had after Lizzy makes it through her show, but if I am to be less critical, perhaps this is realistic. Life is rarely a sequence of sweeping gestures; however, there is something to be said when we are more concerned about the wellbeing of a pigeon than anything else at play in Showing Up.
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