American Woman

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

American Woman
dir Jake Scott
scr Brad Ingelsby
prd Ridley Scott, Kevin J Walsh, Michael Pruss, Brad Feinstein
with Sienna Miller, Christina Hendricks, Aaron Paul, Will Sasso, Amy Madigan, Pat Healy, Sky Ferreira, Aidan Fiske, Aidan McGraw, Alex Neustaedter, E Roger Mitchell, Kentucker Audley
release US 14.Jun.19,
UK 11.Oct.19
18/US 1h52

paul sasso madigan

miller and hendricks
There's a gritty naturalism to this rural drama, following a group of average working class people through an extraordinary set of circumstances. The film remains remarkably grounded, never tipping into melodrama even when some scenes become emotionally overheated. And director Jake Scott also leads the actors to give unusually raw performances that bristle with honesty.
In rural Pennsylvania, Deb (Miller) is a grandmother at 32, when her teen daughter Bridget (Ferreira) has a son. Then Bridget goes missing, and Deb raises the infant Jesse (later played by McGraw then Fiske) herself, relying on the support of her sister Kath (Hendricks) and brother-in-law Terry (Sasso), plus her mother (Madigan), who can still push her buttons. Over the course of a decade, Deb has a relationship with Ray (Healy), who turns violent, and then she falls in love with Chris (Paul). And she never stops hoping that Bridget will be found.
The film's setting is beautifully rendered, although having the sisters in mirror homes across the street from each other is perhaps a bit heavy-handed. The obvious contrast is the wild, life-loving Deb as opposed to the settled-down Kath with her loving husband and two bright sons. But Deb is clearly a very good mother to Jesse, overcoming obstacles Kath can't quite imagine. And the way they support each other without question is simply beautiful.

Because Deb has such a big personality, Miller delivers a full-on performance, often tearing up the scenery. But it's in the quieter moments when she's most effective, subtly letting Deb's underlying thoughts travel across her face. The film lives in Deb's relationship with Kath, and Miller and Hendricks develop a remarkably authentic chemistry as sisters who don't always see eye-to-eye but are always there when needed. The supporting cast is earthy and natural around them, with a scene-stealing turn from Sasso as a man who likes to stay out of a fight, then quietly makes himself known.

It's refreshing that the plot points are so underplayed, because this shifts the focus to the characters and their internal journeys, which are deeply involving. Even though there are significant events right through the story, they remain part of the texture. This approach gives an everyday tone to even the most intense things that happen, creating a sharp portrait of human resilience in the face of things that seem world-ending. In other words, the title may seem generic, but the film certainly isn't.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 23.Jul.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall