American Woman Review: Miller is Deeply Moving, Strong, And Magnetic A Disappearing Act

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Summary

Sienna Miller really does give one of the year’s very best performances in American Woman; she is so deeply moving, strong, and even magnetic that it’s worth your time if you focus on the journey rather than its mystery.

Sienna Miller is an immensely talented actress of great physical beauty who has that rare ability to disappear into any role she decides to step into. No amount of hair, makeup, or CGI is ever needed, which makes it that much more impressive. Her turn here in American Woman is really one of the year’s very best performances; she is so deeply moving, strong, and even magnetic. It’s an awe-inspiring turn that’s full of **** and vinegar, yet gracefully strong, and tender when needed. It’s a shame for cinephiles that the casual moviegoers who will have managed to find it in theatres or on digital will likely be too disgruntled to enjoy it based on the film’s criminally misleading marketing campaign. It’s anything but a mystery crime thriller.

Miller plays Debra “Deb” Callahan, a 32-year-old single mother, living with her teenage daughter, Bridget (Sky Ferreira) and her infant son, making her the youngest grandmother in modern American history (but probably not). They live in a modest house in a tight-knit community in an average rural Pennsylvania town. Residing across from her is her older sister, Katherine (Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks), her husband Terry (Mad TV’s Will Sasso), and their two sons. Deb’s relationship to her daughter, as it is with the rest of her family, including her Mom (Field of Dreams’ Amy Madigan) is loving, but tempestuous at best, as she feels their disapproving eye over her numerous affairs with married men and closing bars all over town. Everything then changes for the worse, as Bridget disappears after a night out with friends, leaving Deb to manage things at home with her grandson while searching for answers.

American Woman was directed by Jake Scott (Welcome to the Riley’s), son of the great Ridley Scott, and his new film is a career-best. For a man whose career has been spent knee-deep in directing nearly 50 music videos, along with his two previous features, the overall tone and setting of his latest are as far from established career trek as one can get. His vision, while not necessarily a backwoods tale, uses the tragedy of a missing child as a mere backdrop in enhancing the story of Deb’s pilgrimage; of not only becoming a better mother to her grandson, but a better daughter, sister, and overall person than what she was before the open-ended tragedy occurred.

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The script from scribe Brad Ingelsby is well-grounded and timely, showcasing the arc of today’s modern woman breaking the shackles of the notion of needing a man in her life to feel complete; while making something of herself despite circumstances where anyone would have crumbled into a drunken despair. The use of the setting of a rural Pennsylvania town has the feel of a spin-off of his script for the undervalued Christian Bale and Casey Affleck dramatic thriller, Out of the Furnace. There are so many films that take place in a handful of areas like New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago, the setting becomes a character all its own.

The film has a solid supporting cast, which like the film itself isn’t showy, but rather is there to enhance Miller’s character. The addition of El Camino‘s Aaron Paul as one of Deb’s love interests (there are a few here) leads to a moment of surprising freshness. It’s a scene that demonstrates why it’s worth living, as when something so simple as a nervous joy before coming out of a bathroom is endearingly sweet.

American Woman has an intentionally understated script, and credit should be given for staying on the course while not resorting to becoming a whodunit crime thriller (that would be like making Good Will Hunting into a thriller about a genius janitor saving MIT from a bunch of crafty terrorists). That’s not the point; rather its a subtle drama about love, loss, and not necessarily hope, but rather perseverance.


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M.N. Miller

M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.

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