First Hit: This film grew on me just as Debra (Sienna Miller) grew into a strong, thoughtful person in this story.
I was somewhat reluctant to see this film and for a stupid reason. I always equated “American Woman.” the film’s title, with the 1970s, Guess Who song, “American Women.” I first heard this song while in Vietnam, and it is about the downsides of American government and society.
However, this film is about the growth of Debra from her early thirties until about her mid-forties. In this time, we learn she was a sixteen-year-old mother to her daughter Bridget (Sky Ferreira), she’s close with her sister Katherine (Christina Hendricks) and has a love-hate relationship with her mother Peggy (Amy Madigan).
Opening this film, Debra is getting ready for a date. She’s yelling for her daughter to come in and help her dress. We hear a baby crying in the background, it’s Brigit’s young son Jesse (Aidan McGraw as young Jesse and Aidan Fisk as older Jesse). Brigit burst into Debra’s room, and we can immediately tell what kind of life this family is living. Debra is trying to look sexy and hot in a too tight turquoise color dress, and Brigit looks slovenly in a baggy too large sweatshirt, hair disheveled, and her attitude is rebellious.
Katherine lives across the street from Debra with her husband Terry (Will Sasso) and their children. Katherine and Terry spend a lot of time taking care of Debra’s needs. Peggy lives nearby, and when she’s in the room with Debra, the tension is the focal point. The way they talk with each other is filled with sarcasm, resentment, and pain.
Brigit goes out with her baby’s dad Tyler (Alex Neustaedter) who everyone thinks is a punkish, loser, and drug user. She never comes back home from the date and Debra’s left to care for her daughter’s baby boy.
The film takes us through approximately sixteen years of Debra, Katherine, Terry, Peggy and Jesse’s lives together. While mourning the loss of Brigit together, they are also raising Jesse the best they can.
Through this time, we watch Debra start to make wiser choices in her life. One such opportunity is her realization that Ray (Pat Healy), the man she had invited to live with because of financial reasons, is unhealthy, and finally kicks him out in a theatrical kitchen scene.
We see her develop a positive relationship with Chris (Aaron Paul), which quickly develops into marriage. As an audience member, we root for them because Chris has a very positive relationship with Jesse. But when she discovers he is having an affair, watching her end this marriage, we see how far she’s come and grown. She does this with mindfulness, although she is deeply hurt. Much different than the breakup with Ray.
During this time, she has gone to school, graduated, and works as a human resources supervisor at an assisted living facility. A place her mother ends up in.
This film is about how events of deep pain can help someone to begin to choose another way to live. How taking on the responsibility of raising someone else’s child can assist in guiding us to a better life. It is about Debra thoughtfully taking charge of her life. It is about making amends, as shown in the scene when Debra and Tyler talk late in the story; it’s powerful.
Miller is terrific at embodying this role. This is a role she can hang her heart on and say, I did this. It is a career role. Hendricks is equally great as the sister. Her ability to cajole, support, and give space to Debra is powerful. Paul was excellent as Chris, the man who did really care but made a big mistake. Sasso was outstanding as Debra’s brother-in-law. His kindness and support are felt throughout the film. When he follows Debra, who is searching for her daughter, we see his support. Neustaedter was very strong as Jesse’s father. When he eventually finds himself having the ability to talk with Debra positively was beautiful. Madigan as Katherine and Debra’s mom was perfect. She did the dance of caring in her limited way with perfection. Healy was scary excellent as the abusive, controlling boyfriend. Fiske was great as the older Jesse. I loved his scene at the prom and subsequently telling Chris about his first girlfriend. E. Roger Mitchell as the police detective Sergeant Morris was excellent. His level of compassion when bringing Debra to where her daughter was killed was utterly somber. Brad Ingelsby wrote a powerfully strong screenplay. Jake Scott brought out excellent performances by all, and this story is about an American Woman who is willing to grow and become a powerful example of strength.
Overall: This film surprised me with its depth of character and compelling storyline.