Sienna Miller shines in this US drama in the somewhat unlikely role of Deb, a hard-partying young grandma struggling through everyday life on the Pennsylvania rust belt. Some of the problems that she faces are familiar – a stormy love life; up-and-down relations with her more settled sister (Christina Hendricks); a disapproving mum; and the difficulties of raising a child alone. But there’s a special tragedy that underpins ‘American Woman’: the disappearance of Deb’s teenage daughter, Bridget. She goes out one night, leaving her baby in Deb’s arms, and is never seen again after a row with her boyfriend and a night drinking away her sorrows at a friend’s house.
From those traumatic beginnings, ‘American Woman’ unfolds over about a decade. This solid, touching drama from Jake Scott (son of Ridley) plays best in small, grabbed moments of messy family life. It’s not a totally convincing package – it’s too slick, too shouty and everyone’s a bit too good-looking to convince us fully that we’ve been plunged into the margins of modern America (a shiny-toothed Aaron Paul steps into the frame halfway through as Deb’s new husband). But, this is a mature attempt to portray terrible pain and recovery, and to share the realistic rhythms of complicated lives. It also reminds us that Sienna Miller is a talent too often underrated – she’s in almost every frame of this quietly-moving story, and she pulls us through the film’s more melodramatic moments.