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Film Of The Week Blue-collar blues

MARIA DUARTE sees a gripping drama of a working-class woman struggling to keep her head above water in small-town America

American Woman (15)
Directed by Jake Scott

SIENNA MILLER delivers a powerhouse performance as a single mother forced to raise her grandson when her teenage daughter mysteriously disappears.

A poignant working-class family drama, American Woman is set in a blue-collar town in Pennsylvania, where the narrative unfolds over 11 years.

There, 32-year-old Debra Callahan (Miller) — who looks more like her daughter Bridget’s (Sky Ferreira) sister than her mum — is left traumatised and haunted by the loss of her child to the eventual discovery of the truth.

In the meantime, she does her best to provide a stable home and upbringing for Bridget’s son Jesse, played by Aidan McGraw and Aidan Fiske.

Unlucky in relationships, Deb goes from a married man to an uber-controlling abusive boyfriend, who she tolerates as he provides her and Jesse with financial support while she attends a local college, to a cheating husband (Aaron Paul).

While partly a crime drama, the film provides a painstaking and realistic exploration of complex family dynamics, with the focus on the bonds between sisters and mothers and daughters.

Debra, who fell pregnant at 16 and was dumped by her boyfriend, sees history repeating itself in her daughter Bridget, a teen mum.

She has a volatile relationship with her own mother (Amy Madigan) and her critical but loving older sister Katherine (Christina Hendricks) who keeps a watchful eye on her from her home across the street where she lives with her husband and kids.

Brad Ingelsby’s raw and movingly nuanced script deals with abuse on many levels while examining the human capacity to change, forgive and endure.

Debra transforms from a hard-drinking good-time girl to a hard-working human resources supervisor at a local assisted living facility where she fights for the staff’s rights.

Yet just as she is finally finding some peace and happiness life serves her another curved ball.

What drives the powerful heart-wrenching narrative home is Miller’s exquisitely multilayered portrayal, as her character escapes the shackles of small-town mentality and prejudice in a bittersweet but uplifting ending.

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