AMERICAN WOMAN – Review by Martha K. Baker

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It’s not enough to describe the plot of American Woman as about a woman whose daughter goes missing. It’s not enough to say that the main character behaves like the hoyden who had her daughter at 16 and is still acting like an adolescent, right along with her now teen-age daughter, now also a mother.

Deb says wisely to Bridget, “Things don’t go back. You just make do with what’s left.” But she also can be unwise in asking if she, the mother, looks sexy enough for her date with a married man.

And then Bridget goes missing. That leaves Deb to care for toddler Jesse, but luckily Deb’s sister Kath lives next door with her beloved husband and children, and their mother lives near by. Eleven years pass as Deb continues to look for and to honor her missing daughter, but also as she matures, from waitress to student to professional.

In her way, Deb represents what sociologist Catherine Bateson wrote about in Composing a Life, that women’s journeys may be halting, but each step defines the next.

Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) brings award-worthy electricity to the role of Deb, extruding the soft woman from the hard skank. As her sister, Christina Hendricks, works wonders, in concerned concert with Amy Madigan as their mother. Ben Sasso plays Kath’s sweet husband, and Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul plays Deb’s husband.

Jake Scott paces American Woman by suggesting more than detailing the links of women’s lives, similar to understanding shown in the recent film, Diane. Scott does not force plot peaks in Deb’s life, leaving those to the audience to divine. He and cinematographer John Mathieson were also cinematically adventuresome in shooting Brad Inglesby’s script, especially intuitive with badinage. Scott’s experience in directing music videos plays out in Albert Wiltzie’s appropriate strings.

Movie audiences, critics included, must develop a vocabulary geared specifically to films like the stellar, affecting American Woman because mansplaining just won’t cut it.

I’m Martha K. Baker. From the Grand Center Arts District, this is 88.1, KDHX, St. Louis.

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Martha K. Baker (Archived Contributor)

I first taught film at Lakeland College in Wisconsin in 1969 and became a professional film reviewer in 1976 in St. Louis, Mo. Through the years, I have reviewed films for the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Episcopal Life, and KWMU (NPR), among other outlets. I've reviewed at KDHX radio, my current outlet, for nearly 20 years.