Arts, Movies

‘Showing Up’ Exposes the Reality of an Artist’s Everyday Life


After finding a semi-mauled pigeon in her bathroom one night, Showing Up’s protagonist Lizzy (Michelle Williams) tries to push it out the window, telling it to “die somewhere else.” Those three words sum up the attitude at the hearts of the characters of the film: a desire to put the suffering and misery of their world out of sight. 

In the film Showing Up, directed by Kelly Reichardt and released on April 7, Lizzy works at an art school in Portland, Ore., where she is stifled by peers who make her feel inadequate. Her landlady and sometimes best friend Jo (Hong Chau) avoids her to try to ignore the house’s disrepair. Lizzy’s divorced parents refuse to acknowledge each other—or her brother’s mental health struggles—and Lizzy, an artist, doesn’t feel able to work on her art projects without a break once in a while. 

But there is joy and happiness in this difficult artistic world. The pigeon survives the night to be found by Jo, who asks Lizzy to take care of it. Initially annoyed by the task, Lizzy soon bonds with the bird and feels a new light in her creative and personal life. No one else can understand this bond. After she takes it to get medical attention, her bemused co-worker Eric, played by Outkast’s André 3000, criticizes her actions. 

“Where I come from we shoot pigeons with BB guns, we don’t take them to the vet,” Eric says. 

But the strangeness of the situation doesn’t make any difference to Lizzy, and her new worldview drives her to take risks. She spends the money she had held on tightly to and begins to confront Jo on her living situation.

Showing Up is a funny, thoughtful, and tender depiction of an artist’s world. Despite the avoidance and denial that the characters direct toward their problems, the emotions they feel are honest and genuine. This is a film that lingers over an Oregonian artist’s studio and the quiet houses of her neighbourhood, with no interest in looking anywhere else. It takes a while to settle into this minimalist style, but once viewers do, the intelligence is impossible to ignore. This is a movie which does not go off to die somewhere else, but lives in amazing color. 

The prevailing sound of the movie is a deep silence—a silence which may make viewers too afraid to crinkle their popcorn bag in a theater so quiet, they can hear the movie playing one screen over. Lizzy is alone for most of her screen time, without any companion but her pigeon. The film’s genius is how it deals with this silence and tells the audience everything it needs to know without any words. 

Colors, scenery, and facial expressions mean everything in the absence of noise. And the minimal sounds throughout the movie are carefully selected. Every line of dialogue and every note of music is put in its essential place, dragging viewers’ attention to it. Lizzy may rarely speak about her anger and disappointment, but the close shots of her facial expressions among the gray houses beside her car tell the audience all it needs to know.

Despite the difficult topics it deals with, there is a great deal of humor in the film. Lizzy has a laid-back sarcasm, while her friends and family have a comical madness. The jokes may not elicit much loud laughter from the audience, but they will likely stick with viewers long after the film’s end. 

At the conclusion of Showing Up, a mesmerising clip of rope braiding plays alongside the credits. It is the perfect match for the detailed artworks that line the scenes with an intelligent, subtle humor.  

April 16, 2023