Directed by: Jake Scott
Written by: Brad Ingelsby
Starring: Sienna Miller, Christina Hendricks, Aaron Paul, Will Sasso, Pat Healy, Amy Madigan
Life can throw insurmountable curveballs that are impossible to prepare for, but our true character surfaces based on how we react to them. As the title suggests this tale simply tells the story of a woman and how she reacts to the circumstances that life has to offer, aided by a tremendous performance by the lead actor.
Living with her teen daughter and grandson, Debra Callahan (Sienna Miller) tries to hold everything together for her family with the help of her sister Katherine (Christina Hendricks). Once her daughter does not return one night, Debra’s life is flipped upside down and tears everything down to try and find her. After an unsuccessful search, the story picks up seven years with Debra raising her grandson.
No fancy editing or flashy directing style in this feature, American Woman displays a well-told story of a mother trying to move on after the loss of her daughter and to make decisions in the best interest of her family. The story has this one singular focus that drives the narrative and doesn’t use any gimmick to enhance the storytelling. It provides the perfect showcase for Sienna Miller to deliver the best performance of her career. After making her name known with American Sniper, Miller gets the chance to lead a film and with that opportunity, she puts together something special. The character of Debra does nothing but suffer throughout her life and the perseverance and endurance displayed demonstrate her true spirit. That of a woman willing to make sacrifices for the good of her family. Someone who will not allow her circumstances keep her down from the responsibilities she has for her loved ones.
Christina Hendricks also delivers a good performance in the supporting role of Debra’s sister. She provides an honest perspective that challenges Debra’s decisionmaking and how it can impact the entire family. There are moments where she shines and complements Miller so well that it actually feels like sisters that bicker but ultimately come together because they truly care for each other.
Watching this film made me recollect its similarities to Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, with displaying a story of perseverance that creates a protagonist worth rooting for. In this film, Debra has to juggle the men she introduces into her life and not only consider the impact on her, but also her grandson. She battles infidelity, physical, and emotional abuse at the hands of these men, but she needs to put up with it because of the financial security they provide her family. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to see but it displays the moments where she fights back and grows as a person.
An incredibly effective in telling this small story, but the title seems to reference what it means for the typical American woman. Just as this film went quietly under the radar, the stories of countless women that have to endure hardships to provide for their families usually stay hidden when they shouldn’t be. Whether it be fighting abuse or going through unsavory means to ensure there is food on the table, these women should be celebrated and this film, at least in my eyes, shows that obstacles can be defeated and success can be reached.