Lily Gladstone Steals the Show in This Star-Studded Drama

The Big Picture

  • Lily Gladstone’s performance in “Certain Women” is being praised as a force to be reckoned with.
  • The film explores the lives of three women navigating the challenges of small-town Montana.
  • Gladstone’s portrayal of the rancher showcases emotional vulnerability and a sense of longing.


With the recent release of Killers of the Flowers Moon, people are talking about the latest masterpiece from Martin Scorsese, and one of the big reasons is the great performance by Lily Gladstone. It’s already been announced that she’ll be campaigning throughout award seasons in Lead Actress categories, and almost every critical review of the film has singled her out as a force to be reckoned with, which is no small feat when sharing major screen time with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. But those who’ve paid attention will know that she’s been out in the acting scene for quite a while now, building up a resume through roles in projects like Billions and Buster’s Mal Heart. One filmmaker who saw something in her long before the masses caught on is Kelly Reichardt, who cast her in Certain Women, which is an exceptional introduction to Gladstone’s skill.

Certain Women poster

Certain Women

The lives of three women intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail.

Release Date
October 14, 2014

Rating
R

Runtime
107

Genres
Drama


What is Certain Women About?

Certain Women tells a triptych of stories about three different women who live near each other in small-town Montana. Each of the women in these stories deals with the daily tribulations of weathering the elements, trying to make something of their small slice of life, and maintaining the connections they have. In Gladstone’s storyline, she plays an unnamed rancher, who spends her days working alone on a farm, with only the animals, the TV, and her Corgi as companions. One night after work, she goes out to town in her truck and sees many cars pull up to a local school; she decides to see what’s going on, and follows the various people into a classroom. It turns out this is a night class for local educational law, and the teacher Beth (Kristen Stewart), is an out-of-towner who seems ill at ease with this job. The rancher is smitten, and strikes up a rapport with Beth, where they eat at the local diner after class. This develops into a connection that the rancher becomes infatuated with.

Kelly Reichardt is a master of the short story form, weaving stories where very little demonstratively happens in terms of plot or conventional character action, and so she asks you to get drawn in via the smallest of details and rhythms. We know very little about this rancher except for her daily routine and what Lily Gladstone brings of her to us. We feel her sense of isolation, that while she is comfortable in her life of doing farm work, she is not truly content with it. She is a bit of a wanderer, going out at night to find the possibility of something to add a spark. When she’s in class, you see she’s way in the back, thinking about engaging, but holding back, whether out of fear or lack of confidence. It’s only when Beth comes in, deeply unsure of herself and exhausted beyond measure, conducting a class on a subject she readily admits to knowing little about, that the rancher finds that spark she was looking for.

Lily Gladstone’s Rancher Feels Like a Teenager

Lily Gladstone ruminating on what the future will offer
Image via IFC Films

Given the way that the rancher conducts herself, she feels like an emotionally stunted person. She’s been bereft of true connection for so long that when someone comes along, she has the perkiness and apprehension of a teenager. Gladstone evokes those days of yearning where you put on your best self like a costume and listen attentively to the words of your crush as if they were the sweetest of nectar being poured into your ears. Despite this, she still maintains a deep insecurity, sheepish with eye contact and gingerly offering insight into her life. Beth is more than happy to share about her life and her job situation, unloading a lifetime already burdened with disappointment and blunted expectations, but does so in a way that doesn’t have any of the mannered focus that Gladstone brings. This is less a criticism and more a testament to how great Stewart is, utilizing her sleepy eyes and unadorned demeanor to devastating effect. If Gladstone is coming into her bloom in life, then Stewart has fully burnt out on hers.

This doesn’t dissuade the rancher, as she’s nothing if not an optimist and a romantic. How else to interpret her taking time to just stand in the parking lot watching Beth’s car drive away, savoring the spare time they had together? She has an ace up her sleeve: her own horse! Much like wanting to impress a date with your snazzy new car, the rancher believes that offering Beth a ride to the diner on her horse is going to impress her. If anything, Beth finds it at most mildly amusing, while the rancher radiates with pure pride in herself; this leads to a hilarious moment where the rancher admits her truck isn’t broken to a waitress, and Beth momentarily squints as if to say “wait, you didn’t need to bring your horse?” But alas, small moments like that can only last so long.

The Most Awkward Heartbreak

Lily Gladstone in Certain Women
Image via IFC Films

Beth eventually quits her job because she has no knowledge of the subject, and she has to drive four hours to the school and back to where she lives for her day job at a business office. The rancher finds this out when a substitute teacher comes to class and says Beth left, and she’s immediately devastated by this, slinking out of class and driving home. That is until she gets an idea, and drives all the way to where Beth works. She’s haggard and actively nodding off while driving, but Gladstone imbues her with stolid perseverance, and she’s determined to make it. She doesn’t seem to even have an idea as to what she’ll do once she meets Beth, but she knows she has to do it.

Once she arrives at the business office, she spots Beth’s car pull into the parking lot, and the rancher makes a cautious beeline for her. What’s particularly ruinous about this meeting is that it crystallizes how oblivious both of them are; Beth has no idea that the rancher has ever had any kind of intense connection with her, and the rancher has no idea that she’s effectively made herself a stalker. It’s a non-reaction that scalds like dry ice, and it is commendable that the rancher has the presence of mind to uncouple herself and leave gracefully. It’s once she drives away that we get the closest thing this storyline has to an emotional catharsis: a 30-second stretch of Lily Gladstone staring into space as she reckons with how badly she messed this situation up. There is no actual explosion, just a prolonged string of undercurrents of shame clashing with physical and emotional exhaustion. Fitting that she winds up falling asleep and her car drifting off onto an open plane, the image of her truck alone amidst the blanket of the land a eulogy for a dream snuffed out. But that dream wouldn’t have felt so real if it weren’t for Lily Gladstone having the screen presence and emotional transparency to make it feel lucid.

Certain Women is available to stream on Pluto TV in the U.S.

Watch on Pluto TV

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