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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that American Woman is a powerful drama from director Jake Scott (son of Ridley) about a loving but vulgar 31-year-old woman (Sienna Miller) whose teen daughter (Sky Ferreira) disappears. Deb Callahan lives life with no filter: She's promiscuous, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, profane (all the four-letter words, all the time), and generally out of control. She became pregnant as a sexually inexperienced teen and chose to have the baby; she was then labeled "easy," which she allowed to become her identity. When we meet her, she speaks about sex crudely all the time to everyone, including her 16-year-old, who's a new mom herself. The film isn't about the who, what, and why of the girl's disappearance but rather the way it affects Deb and how she perseveres and eventually becomes strong, self-reliant, and self-respecting. In addition to the crude sexual content and strong language ("f--k," "s--t," and more), scenes show teens with a bong, characters drinking and driving, domestic abuse, and attempted suicide.
What's the story?
Is it any good?
Screenwriter Brad Inglesby scatters a trail of clue crumbs for viewers to pick up and nibble on to solve the compelling mystery of how a train wreck of a mother came to be a small-town Jezebel. With Miller's powerful performance and strong guidance from director Jake Scott, we're able to understand why Deb's profound loss may have been the only way to spark her evolution. American Woman is a film that could be used in psychology classes -- and, for older teens, perhaps has use as a cautionary tale. Although she becomes a remarkable example of resilience, it's still hard to see Deb as a role model.
Miller's performance is surely one of the best of 2019. She ekes out subtle changes in a multidimensional character as the story jumps forward through the years of Deb's life. The movie also quietly and rightly addresses how a parent of a missing child so desperately needs closure -- how it's impossible for them to truly move on while dealing with the constant wonder of whether their kid isn't somewhere out there in the world, waiting to be found. While American Woman has all the elements of a heart-wrencher, Deb's persona allows viewers to save their tears until the other shoe finally drops.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the abuse shown in American Woman. How does Deb break the cycle? How does this kind of media violence compare to other types you've seen? Which has the most impact, and why?
Taylor blames his addiction on Deb, saying that her false accusation "made people look at me differently." What does that mean? Deb described her own teen pregnancy in similar terms. Do you think people's judgments of us affect who we become?
Why do you think the film is titled American Woman? What does that imply, for good and bad?
Deb's mother gives her a motivational poster with the word "perseverance" on it. How does Deb embody that character strength? Why is it important?
Compare Deb at the beginning of the film to who she becomes in the end. Why do you think she changed?
- In theaters: June 14, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: October 8, 2019
- Cast: Sienna Miller, Christina Hendricks, Aaron Paul
- Director: Jake Scott
- Studios: Roadside Attractions, Vertical Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language, sexual content and brief drug use
- Last updated: September 10, 2020
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