American Woman ★★★★½

Some films grab you because of the cool setpieces and visual effects and others just seem to hit on an emotional level, right in your fucking gut. After yet another round of abject misery being heaped on poor old Sienna Miller in this Jake Scott drama from last year, I suddenly found said gut beginning to tighten up, to twist around as Miller makes a heartbreaking discovery in her dustbin. That's when I knew that this film about this poor woman, who had nothing and lost everything had really gotten under my skin.

Starting off as any number of white trash Americana flicks do, we see Miller in the middle of disasterous life choices (her taste and need for inappropriate men, her reliance on her sister - Christina Hendricks - who lives across the road and seeing her teenage daughter make the same mistakes she did in having a baby far too young). She's convincing in every way, right up until the unthinkable happens and her daughter goes missing.

But from here, you realize the title of the film and the narrative takes a different turn - no intense focus on the investigation or the search for her daughter, just a few short scenes and the film jumps five years into the future, showing us how Miller is or rather isn't coping with her loss. The film does this on a number of occasions - jumps ahead showing how Miller has grown in some ways, been completely left behind in others. But it keeps Miller onscreen virtually the entire runtime, thoroughly investing us in her as we slowly see her change across the years and across her ever changing situations, so much so that you really start to care for her.

A wedding offers a rare glimpse of happiness in her life and yet even when that is cruelly snatched away, the film has shown us enough to know that the reason behind this loss is now different - its on her terms, her life having moved on and evolved in any number of ways to show that she has come to terms with her own life and her own place in it.

As the film enters its final act, the investigation into her daughter comes back into view and even as the film closes out, with less of an emphasis on this element as you might have guessed, its because the writer, director and Miller herself has done such a fantastic job in letting you glimpse into this very real feeling life over a number of years. You understand her and her choices and the film offers up no judgment, no over the top dramatic narrative beats to force Miller to show unwarranted or false feeling emotions.

Its a really rather brilliant little film, and Miller is stunningly good. On the surface, its a drama that heaps misery after misery on its main character. And yet somehow it feels uplifting, the snatches of happiness all the more earned and all the more real as a result.

Simply wonderful.

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