American Woman ★★★★

Who had quiet, introspective female led character study in their betting pool for the next Jake Scott, prolific music video director and son of Ridley, film endeavor? Not I.

Nor did I suspect to have a Sienna Miller performance ranked among the very best of the year, but here we are. Miller, evidently wasted in countless roles as the wife, temptation or love interest for tortured male leads (see, e.g., American Sniper, Live by Night, Lost City of Z, Burnt, Foxcatcher, and on and on), is nothing short of a revelation here. While the film’s plot has a tendency to amble into soapy melodrama, a relatably human script and Miller tenacious performance carry the day. Given the chance to play out about 17 years in the life of a character tortured by difficult circumstance, Miller cuts a resoundingly human arc. It does perhaps take some suspension of disbelief to embrace that someone who looks like Miller could ever be caught in the sort of central Pennsylvania rural abyss that ensnares her character. Once you get past that minor issue, her performance takes off. She never devolves into shtick even as the plot turns to melodrama. She carries what appears to be tremendously heavy emotional baggage in most scenes. She drinks in a natural way - not with an actorly alcoholic arc but rather someone who lives perpetually number by a few extra drinks each day. The way her character drinks and smokes throughout her evolution present a mini masterclass in small character decisions adding up to real investment. She’s helped by an able supporting cast, highlighted by Christina Hendricks, Aaron Paul, and Will Sasso. Miller’s interplay with Hendricks, playing her sister, carry a genuine sense of lived in chemistry. One scene sees the sisters, neighbors, calling one another with taunting banter while peering through their windows. It’s a lovely scene and feels rooted in reality. 

This is, alas, the sort of movie where Bad Things befall our protagonist time and time again because the plot requires it. It’s honestly difficult to understand how such a well written script in the micro could operate so poorly in the macro. Nevertheless, Miller’s work makes the whole thing worth your time with one of the year’s strongest performances. I can only hope she’s given more roles with this sort of depth, texture, and screen time.

2019: First to Worst

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