Not to be confused with a 2018 defunct TV series inspired by the life of Kyle Richards, this modestly budgeted Jake Scott drama (son of Ridley who’s a producer here) almost seems like a variant on the likes of Boyhood though without its cumulative potency. From the perspective of a vital member when dysfunctional often prevails.
American Woman may leave certain viewers short-changed based on a pot-boiler narrative angle when a 16-year-old mother (of a one-year-old) Bridget (Sky Ferreira) suddenly goes missing; the emphasis from the rust-belt of the Keystone State is on the effect this has on Bridget’s dissolute, ballsy early 30s mother Debra Callahan (Sienna Miller of Factory Girl, American Sniper, The Lost City of Z).
Deb’s in an illicit relationship with Brett (Kentucker Audley), and when Bridget doesn’t return after trying to patch things with her son Jesse’s ne’er-do-well papa, Tyler (Alex Neustaedter) Deb begins to realize the worst after a contentious meeting with Tyler and a vigorous nearby search from volunteers. So, Scott tries well enough to eschew melodrama regarding a fraught domestic situation with a bit of a documentary feel in transitioning twice over a period of half-a-dozen years that may not have enough verisimilitude for discerning on-lookers.
Still, you see Deb raising grandson Jesse (at first Aidan McGraw then Aidan Fiske) as she’s in diverse relationships from the harsh Ray (Pat Healy) to the more affable, tender-hearted Chris (Aaron Paul). The void of Bridget is evident as a mother/grandmother betters herself professionally (after obtaining a degree) and settling down. Coping with grief in a productive way allows scenarist Brad Inglesby (Out of the Furnace, Run All Night) to evince moments of subtle grace even if it can’t always shake its episodic, contrived tendencies.
In what some might mistake for a typical Lifetime Network presentation a caring, if judgmental mother comes by way of Amy Madigan and Christina Hendricks is quite effective as Deb’s older, maternal sister with three kids of her own. Will Sasso lends some unexpected gravitas (especially in a scene that may appear innocuous), and Healy and Paul provide further, if disparate, creditable backup. Though American Woman essentially puts its thriller component on the backburner (eventually addressing it in moving fashion) it morphs with a gradual intensity due to the heart and soul endowed by Miller (getting a chance to shine in a rare headlining performance) that makes what could be streamlined more real than shrill.