American Woman
Amy Madigan and Sienna Miller

As you watch “American Woman,” you will soon see why its star, Sienna Miller, could rise to the top of Oscar candidates for best actress and also of the various organizations and guilds that announce awards annually. Her performance as Debra (Sienna Miller), a single mother whose reliance on men will gradually wear away as she gains in maturity, wisdom and specific experiences. Jake Scott, the director, whose “Welcome to the Rileys” focuses on an emotionally distraught man who, like Debra, finds a modicum of salvation by taking care of a woman, is obviously in his métier with the current offering. Scott’s people living hardscrabble lives in rural Pennsylvania with clouded political horizons to such an extent that they vote for Republicans if they bother casting ballots at all. The movie’s writer, Brad Ingelsby, implies that these folks are representative of a broad swath of Americans who have been cast aside as factories close down in our country.

Debra has had to overcome emotional handicaps early on as she has had a baby at the age of sixteen, had considered abortion, but decided that she wants the little fella enough to fight against more rational thoughts. She is dependent enough on man to put up with an abusive Ray (Pat Healy), who thinks nothing of hitting her and of laying down the law to her son, who is now seven years old. As though the kind of life she dreams of is not unattainable enough, she suffers the loss of her daughter Bridget (Sky Ferreira), a kidnap victim who has most likely been murdered, perhaps by teen Tyler (Alex Neustaedter), who is Bridget’s absent dad. By contrast Deb’s sister Kath (Christina Hendricks), who lives across the street, is content with her devoted husband Terry (Will Sasso), a mensch who is willing to do whatever is needed to help Deb and other neighbors.

Six years go by. Bridget is still missing. Deb tries to elevate her station by taking accounting classes while raising Jesse (Aidan McGraw), now age seven. Then zap. Ten more years pass by and Deb is now attached to Chris (Aaron Paul), a devoted family man happy to become Jesse’s role model, until yet another domestic issue appears to cast Deb into blackness.

While the plot is nothing new—woman desperate for stability and affection, realizing the bad choices she has made—“American Woman” is all about Sienna Miller’s riveting performance as a lower-middle class woman whose growth comes in spurts but has never realized contentment. Her roller coaster emotions sees her at times desperate, at other moments optimistic, an American woman whose life may never reach true fruition.

111 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Roadside Attractions/ Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jake Scott
Screenwriter: Brad Ingelsby
Cast: Sienna Miller, Christina Hendricks, Aaron Paul, Will Sasso, Amy Madigan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/16/19
Opens: June 14, 2019

Story – B-
Acting – A
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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