American Woman (CIFF 2019)

First thing’s first: This is a review of the Semi Chellas American Woman, not one of the other two American Woman films that have been released in the past year. It would be swell if we could come up with some more creative titles, filmmakers.

That disclosure out of the way, the American Woman that we’re looking at is based on the Patty Hearst story in the 1970s. For those unaware, she was a rich woman who was kidnapped by a left-wing extremist group and after some time of being held captive decided to join them in their various crimes. The film character is Pauline (Sarah Gadon), not Patty, but the same idea remains. She’s not the protagonist, however; that role goes to Jenny (Hong Chau). She’s been living underground for some time and eventually gets asked to, essentially, babysit a group of radicals as they write their memoir/manifesto/book of some sort. One of them is Pauline; the other two are her captors, Juan and Yvonne (John Gallagher Jr. and Lola Kirke).

Jenny doesn’t fit in all that well but she and Pauline become friends-adjacent fast enough. The plot develops only slightly from there, eventually ending with at least one of them in prison. That’s not a spoiler; the film opens in medias res, with Jenny talking with an FBI agent from prison. It’s one of the film’s biggest problems. Its narrative framing device tells us where the story ends, and the journey itself is not enough to make the experience worthwhile.

The script lacks the drama, characters, and themes to make the brief (85-minute) running time enjoyable or stimulating. The politics of the time are interesting but the film is barely concerned with them. The types of people who would become revolutionaries could make for compelling character studies but our four extremists are bland. Despite having all the potential in the world, American Woman is a boring watch that’s uninterested in exploring any of its potentially fascinating aspects.

Conclusion: American Woman squanders its potential in favor of bland storytelling.

Recommendation: There are three American Womans out within the last year. Check out one of the others. I don’t know what they’re about but at least one of them is bound to be more engaging than this one.

  • 4/10
    Rating - 4/10

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