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American Woman

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
American Woman Movie Poster Image
Amazingly acted, mature character study; lots of language.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 111 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Family is always there to love and support you, even if they do upset you, too. Perseverance is a clear/strong theme.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Deb starts out selfish, profane, immature, sexually vulgar, and completely reliant on her family -- including her 17-year-old daughter. But her profound loss and other traumatic events open the door to personal growth to the point that she finally becomes responsible and independent. The lead character is consistently disrespectful and insulting to her mother.

Violence

Instances of domestic abuse in front of a child; a frying pan is used in self-defense. An emotionally charged woman throws and breaks dishes. Someone attempts suicide by intentionally crashing a car; injury is limited to a bloody head gash. Talk of abduction and murder.

Sex

Deb starts out as obsessed with sex and constantly looking for her next sexual encounter. She wears tight clothes and lingerie and has a married boyfriend. She fondles her boyfriend's genitals in an effort to have sex in a scene that ultimately makes clear that her promiscuous behavior is a distraction from the tragedy of her life. A discussion with a child includes that Deb is involved in a "sugar daddy" relationship with someone she doesn't like. Lots of crude, sexual discussion. Talk of teen pregnancy. The only sexual act that occurs on camera is beautiful, loving, and leads to marriage (very different than the other references to sex, which are hedonistic). A bride-to-be receives a sex toy.

Language

Constant cursing, including many iterations of the words ass, "s--t," and "f--k." Also, "bitch," "crap," "d--k," "f----t," "farts," "goddamn," "skank." "Jesus Christ" is used as a negative exclamation.

Consumerism

Rolling Rock beer is consistently consumed. Vehicles include Dodge and Ford. Candy given to a child as a cool gift includes Gobstoppers, Lemonheads, Swedish Fish, Twizzlers, and Warheads (but it's mentioned that the child doesn't want "junk" and doesn't eat it.) A Century 21 real estate sign is seen prominently.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Frequent drinking in social settings and alone when upset/worried. Character works in a bar. An evening of drinking leads to emotionally charged poor decision-making, including driving under the influence and a suicide attempt. Abuse of prescription drugs. Brief glimpse of a group of teens holding a bong in a smoky room.

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 as "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.

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What's the story?

In AMERICAN WOMAN, Deb Callahan (Sienna Miller) is a promiscuous, irresponsible 31-year-old mother whose teen daughter, Bridget (Sky Ferreira), goes missing. Deb must find her own inner strength and grow so that she can take care of her young grandson.

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 trainwreck of a mother came to be a small-town Jezebel. Combined 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 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? 

Movie details

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