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‘American Woman’ Review: A Considered, and Cautious, Working-Class Character Study

“American Woman,” directed by Jake Scott from a script by Brad Ingelsby, is, on its face, the kind of movie that many of us are afraid is getting squeezed out of the market by blockbusters and franchises. It’s a considered, conscientious character study chronicling the ups and, mostly, downs in the lives of its working-class subjects.

Deb (Sienna Miller) is a single mother in a hardscrabble rural Pennsylvania town. She gave birth to her daughter, Bridget, while she was still in her teens, and when the movie’s story begins in the early 2000s, the teenage Bridget (Sky Ferreira) has a child of her own. Their relationship is simultaneously fraught and playful. Deb’s relationships with her older sister, Katherine (Christina Hendricks), and her mother, Peggy (Amy Madigan), both conveniently parked across the street from Deb, are more on the consistently fraught side.

One night, Bridget goes out with the father of her child and never comes home. This pushes Deb over several edges, both metaphorical and literal. But with each fall she manages to pick herself up, despite seeming to do anything but that. In the ensuing years she raises her grandson to adolescence and wrestles with relationships, one with a decent-seeming construction worker played by Aaron Paul.

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. And it shows more than a few instances of fussy and telegraphing Conspicuous Direction. One shot of a character in a car window mirror is a nudgy cinematic tell that this person is about to commit a betrayal. And so he does.

American Woman

Rated R for themes, language and hardscrabble rural living. Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes.

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