The title alone will have you pondering the course in which Jake Scott’s new film will take. Scott, primarily known for directing music videos and various short films has begun to follow in his father’s footsteps. Following his 2010 feature Welcome to the Rileys, and his polarizing adventure film Plunkett & Maclene (1999), American Woman is Scott’s third feature film.
Set in a no-name town in rural Pennsylvania Deb Callahan (Sienna Miller) must endure every mother’s worst nightmare; her teenage daughter, Bridget (Sky Ferreira) goes missing. Following unsuccessful searches to find her, Deb must raise her young grandson under the watchful and occasionally judgemental eyes of her sister and mother who live just a stones throw away.
The journey Scott takes us on is less about Bridget’s disappearance, it’s Debs odyssey that we’re witnessing, her daughter’s sudden vanishing, although constantly bubbling beneath the surface only ever comes to the forefront of the narrative occasionally. What eclipses a story that we initially assume to be about grief is the stark reality of what we’re left with when people leave and the ways in which we learn to deal with it. Miller gives an outstanding performance overshadowing her fellow cast members by miles. She captures perfectly, the pain, strength and hope of the “American woman.” Scott places Deb under a microscope, her family, work and relationships exist within the film but are pushed to the periphery of Debs own personal journey of self-empowerment and growth.
The snippets of Deb’s external life we do get to experience add a depth to her character without saturating it. There are some heartfelt and relatable moments between Deb and her sister Katherine (Christina Hendricks): discussing a date over the phone as they peer at each other through their kitchen windows and the ease in which they take shared responsibility for Bridget’s son brings a stability to Deb’s character, the comfort and support of home that she has never quite managed to leave, understandably. We see her vulnerability and childlikeness reflected in these small familial moments on screen.
Scott has created a character afflicted by abusive and sexist partners and minimal job prospects, whilst living in a society where the main occupation for women is that of caregivers, whether that be to children, partners or elderly relatives. Scott acknowledges this as a current and prominent issue throughout American society, the title alone makes the directors message easy to decipher. Time fast forwards as we see Deb begin to flourish the best she can, as ten years go by, Scott allows the audience some pit stops along the way.
Erin Brockovich-esque in its depiction of classist and gender-based obstacles, American Woman may not be the vanguard when it comes to films that tackle similar issues, but Scott has found a sensitive and balanced way of storytelling, there’s a feeling of organic progression within this understated yet urgent narrative, lifted further by Millers striking performance as the films protagonist.