Sienna Miller has never looked like anyone outside of Hollywood’s idea of a Rust Belt grandmother, or a waitress slinging chili dogs at a truck-stop diner. It takes a minute to get past the inconvenient truth of her movie-star beauty in American Woman; but once you do, she gives a startlingly real and lived-in performance as Debra, a single mom whose teenage daughter, Bridget (Sky Ferreira), leaves behind her own young son one night to go meet an ex-boyfriend and never comes home.
Trailers for the film make it look like a fairly standard missing-person thriller, but director Jake Scott (son of Ridley) actually has something less expected in mind: the kind of slow-burn, deeply immersive character study that thrived in cinema’s 1970s New Wave.
Bridget’s disappearance tears a hole in Debra’s world, but it also forces her, finally, to grow up — left to care for a grandson who hardly knew his mother, she gropes for a new kind of stability, even as she still can’t help pick fights with her family (including Amy Madigan and Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks) and fall for men (like Aaron Paul’s Chris) who make promises they can’t always keep.
As more than a decade passes on screen, the one constant is Miller’s presence in every scene: a messy, chain-smoking sex kitten stumbling from delayed adolescence toward a grown womanhood — painful, honest, and flawed — worth waiting for. B+
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American Woman (2019 movie)