Grief, loss, and betrayal can feel suffocating, American Woman shows just how consuming these emotions can be. The film follows Deb (Sienna Miller), a young mother and grandmother trying to live her best life. Having been a single mom since she was 16, at 33–Deb’s sole concern is fun. She’s and entangled in an affair with a married man, much to the annoyance of her straight-laced–overbearing mother, Peggy (Amy Madigan) and her uber protective and polar-opposite older sister, Kathy (Christina Hendricks). When she’s not indulging in her forbidden relationship, she’s babysitting her toddler grandson for her 17-year-old daughter, Bridget (Sky Ferreira). When the film opens, Deb is experiencing a real sense of freedom for the first time in her adult life, and she disregards anyone who wants to spoil her fun.
Tragically, Deb’s entire world shatters when Bridget doesn’t come home one evening–effectively vanishing off the face of the earth. Paralyzed by the loss, we watch Deb try to cope with her grief while taking on the newfound responsibility of her grandson, Jesse. At first, she’s frantic, lashing out at her mother and berating Jesse’s teenage stoner father for his treatment of her daughter–but as time moves forward, she must confront herself and her own missteps.
What stands out most in American Woman is the bond that Deb and Kathy have with one another. So often in film, women with different personalities and perspectives on life are pitted against one another, but that’s not the case here. Though they live across the street from one another and often grate each other’s last nerve, Deb finds solace in her big sister, her protective brother-in-law, Terry (Will Sasso) and the stability of their household juxtaposed against her more chaotic one.
Enraged by the loss of her daughter, Deb struggles to put one foot in front of the other, and in the blink of an eye, six years pass. Instead of the 30-something wild child that we met at the beginning of the film, we meet a more centered, reserved woman. Jesse (Aidan McGraw) is now about seven, and Deb is taking accounting class and waitressing with the hopes of putting them both in a better financial situation. Unfortunately, there’s still no news of Bridget and Deb hasn’t quite mastered the romantic aspect of her life. Her live-in- boyfriend, Ray (Pat Healy) might be paying her bills while she’s in school, but his controlling nature is causing a significant strain on both Deb and Jesse. When Ray finally plucks her last nerve, Deb throws him out–forcing herself once again to access her choices.
Jumping ahead yet another decade, Jesse (Aiden Fiske) is now a teenager, and Deb is happily settled, with her younger husband, Chris (Aaron Paul). She’s a college graduate with a more fulfilling career who despite maturing still has a bit of the spark and wit of a younger self. However, American Woman is not a fairytale (aside from the fact that Miller is ageless). Even when you seem to have it together most, life comes at you fast.
In the end, what is so moving about American Woman is that director Jake Scott captured nearly 20 years of life with all of its poetic nuances and triumphs and failures. As one decade spirals into another, we watch Deb confront her pain and herself while the film barrels towards some very harrowing truths. The film also showcases the tenacity and perseverance of women–single mothers, in particular, and the grit and determination it takes to choose happiness and to keep pressing forward when the world is crumbling around you.
American Woman debuts in theaters June 14, 2019.