American Woman (2018 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jake Scott|
|Written by||Brad Ingelsby|
|Music by||Adam Wiltzie|
|Edited by||Joi McMillon|
American Woman is a 2018 English-language drama film directed by Jake Scott, with the screenplay by Brad Ingelsby, and starring Sienna Miller, Aaron Paul and Christina Hendricks. Set over a period of eleven years, its plot follows a single mother who is faced with raising her grandson after her daughter goes missing under mysterious circumstances.
It had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2018. It was given a limited release on June 14, 2019, by Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment, and has received generally favorable critical reviews.
In 2003 small-town Pennsylvania, Debra Callahan is a 32-year-old single mother residing with her teenage daughter, Bridget, and Bridget's infant son, Jesse. She lives directly across the street from her older sister, Katherine, Katherine's husband Terry, and their children. Debra and Katherine have a loving but tempestuous relationship, as the reserved Katherine is critical of Debra's recklessness and her affairs with men. One night, Debra babysits Jesse so Bridget can go on a date with Tyler, Jesse's father, with whom Bridget has had an on-and-off relationship. The next morning, Debra realizes Bridget has not returned home. She questions Tyler, who claims he and Bridget argued and that she went to her friend Jenna's home. Jenna tells Debra that Bridget left late that evening, saying she was going to walk home.
Detective Sergeant Morris begins an investigation into Bridget's disappearance, and Debra insists that Tyler is responsible, claiming she believes he has abused Bridget. Feeling helpless in the efforts to find Bridget, Debra seeks solace in Brett, a married man with whom she is having an affair. When Brett fails to meet with her for one of their trysts, she drunkenly confronts him and his wife in their home, and smashes various items in the kitchen. She then leaves, driving recklessly before removing her hands from the steering wheel and crashing down an embankment, attempting suicide. However, she survives the event unscathed.
Several years later, Bridget's disappearance has turned into a cold case, and Debra is raising Jesse. She has moved her boyfriend Ray, a refinery worker, into her home. Ray is controlling and abusive toward Debra and Jesse, but Debra tolerates it as he gives her financial support while she attends a local college. However, she eventually forces him out of the home when he violently beats her in front of Jesse. Debra continues to hold vigils on Bridget's passing birthdays, and reunites with Tyler, who has recently completed drug rehabilitation, allowing him to visit with Jesse. Tyler tells Debra that he blames her for his drug addiction, as she publicly accused him in Bridget's disappearance. Debra apologizes, and explains she has not suspected him in Bridget's disappearance in a long time.
Some time later, Katherine encourages Debra to begin dating, and plans a double date with Chris, a friend of Terry's. Debra is initially impervious to Chris's advances, but the two become close quickly, and marry after eight weeks of dating. Chris develops a close fatherly relationship with Jesse, now an adolescent. After several years, however, Debra and Chris's relationship deteriorates, and she discovers he is having an affair. She confronts him before kicking him out of her home.
Upon finishing college, Debra finds work as a human resources supervisor at a local assisted living facility, where her mother, Peggy, eventually comes to live after suffering a stroke. One day, eleven years after Bridget went missing, Sergeant Morris arrives at Debra's work to notify her that a serial killer has led them to Bridget's remains, which they unearthed in a shallow grave. Debra goes to visit Bridget's killer in jail, hoping to learn of her daughter's fate. Later, Sergeant Morris brings Debra and Jesse to the crime scene where Bridget's remains were discovered. Debra sobs, and lies in her daughter's shallow grave.
Some time later, Debra decides to sell her house and move away with Jesse to start a new life. She has a garage sale which Chris visits. He tells her he still loves her, but Debra is not forthcoming to his advances, and bids him goodbye. After the sale, Debra and Jesse say emotional goodbyes to Katherine, Terry, and Peggy, before driving away toward their new home.
- Sienna Miller as Debra Callahan
- Christina Hendricks as Katherine
- Aaron Paul as Chris
- Amy Madigan as Peggy
- Pat Healy as Ray
- Will Sasso as Terry
- Sky Ferreira as Bridget Callahan
- Alex Neustaedter as Tyler Hanrick
- Aidan Fiske as Jesse
- Aidan McGraw as Young Jesse
- E. Roger Mitchell as Detective Sergeant Morris
- Macon Blair
- Kentucker Adler as Brett Toback
- Rachel Singer as Mrs. Derrick
In February 2017, it was announced Sienna Miller, Jacki Weaver, Aaron Paul and Christina Hendricks joined the cast of the film, with Jake Scott directing from a screenplay by Brad Ingelsby. Ridley Scott, Kevin J. Walsh and Michael Pruss will serve as producers under their Scott Free Productions banner, while Erika Olde will serve as an executive producer. In April 2017, Amy Madigan, Pat Healy, Ken Marino, Sky Ferreira, and Macon Blair joined the cast of the film. At the time, the project was titled The Burning Woman.
The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2018. Shortly after, Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment acquired distribution rights to the film.
American Woman has received generally favorable reviews from critics. On the internet review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, it has an 89% approval rating based on 73 reviews, with the consensus being: "American Woman finds poignant drama in one woman's grueling odyssey, thanks in no small part to Sienna Miller's outstanding work in the leading role."
Glenn Kenny of The New York Times deemed the film a "working class character study," adding: "The performances are excellent, and Ingelsby’s dialogue largely rings true. But while the movie is indeed considered and conscientious, it’s also careful. It doesn’t risk going over any edges itself." The Los Angeles Times's Kimber Myers praised Miller's performance, writing: "At first, the bones of American Woman feel familiar, with its titular character’s sharp elbows pushing us away. We’ve seen dramas led by brash women before; the one here is played by Sienna Miller, displaying more rage and range in a single film than some actresses get to show in their whole careers. But as the movie and its protagonist evolve, [it] at once reveals its soft underbelly while landing a surprisingly effective punch to the gut — largely thanks to Miller’s deft performance."
Rex Reed, writing for The New York Observer, was laudatory of Miller's performance and the narrative development, noting that the film "catalogues years of pain that develop as naturally as fingerprints and culminates in the eventual revelation of what actually happened to Bridget, but American Woman is elevated beyond its woes by Miller’s galvanizing, astonishing and multi-dimensional centerpiece development of character. You can’t take your eyes off her because she has the extraordinary pace and timing to make you feel what she’s doing while she’s doing it, and you can’t wait for her to do more."
Dennis Harvey of Variety was less praising of the film, writing that it "doesn’t evince a firm enough grasp on the rhythms of lower-middle-class life in Rust Belt Pennsylvania to compensate for the over-dependence on crisis melodrama in Brad Inglesby’s script. While offering some nice grace notes, the film feels too soap-operatic to meet the high bar of its more literary-minded pretensions. Unlikely to get the kind of critical support that would justify art-house exposure, it seems destined for quality cable sales." The San Francisco Chronicle's Carla Meyer described the film as "relentlessly downbeat," and criticized it for its lack of focus on the disappearance of Debra's daughter: "Had the movie been more focused on Deb’s devastation over Bridget’s disappearance, Miller might have been great in it. She is quietly affecting when Deb steps away from whatever current romantic drama envelops her to remember her daughter."
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- Kenny, Glenn (June 13, 2019). "'American Woman' Review: A Considered, and Cautious, Working-Class Character Study". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 18, 2019.
- Myers, Kimber (June 13, 2019). "Review: Sienna Miller makes 'American Woman' her own". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on June 18, 2019.
- Reed, Rex (June 14, 2019). "Sienna Miller Delivers the Best Performance of Her Career in 'American Woman'". The New York Observer. Archived from the original on June 18, 2019.
- Harvey, Dennis. "American Woman review". Variety. Archived from the original on June 18, 2019.
- Meyer, Carla (June 11, 2019). "Review: Sienna Miller is too much in overwrought 'American Woman'". The San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on June 18, 2019.