American Woman (15, 109 mins)

Director: Jake Scott

Stars: Sienna Miller, Christina Hendricks, Aaron Paul

Four stars

Though we’ve seen many films over the years about single parents trying to deal with what life throws at them, it’s rare that we get one from the perspective of a single grandparent. That’s the hook of this very well observed US drama in which small-town single mum Debra (Miller) raises her teenage daughter, Bridget (Sky Ferreira), who also has a baby son of her own.

There’s a real lived-in quality to their everyday existence that marks American Woman apart, as we meet these generally decent people trying to get by with work, relationships and family ties. Debra is having an affair with a married man, while her sister (Hendricks) lives just across the road and they share several fine scenes that can switch from loving to bickering and back again in an instant.

It’s this sense that, for all the grief they give each other – and there’s no shortage of arguing – there’s clearly a lot of love, and there’s no judgement on these characters who are beautifully sketched through their clothing, their appearance, their homes.

The plot kicks in when Bridget goes missing and Debra must deal with the fallout of that while trying to raise the boy. Yet this shouldn’t be mistaken for a missing person thriller, although that aspect is obviously still a major concern to the family. The unique selling point here is that events take place over the course of several years as we check in on how Debra is coping, often with the deadbeat men in her life and the sometimes surprising developments that can throw up, as is the case with the shiftless young father of her grandson.

There are strong performances all round, but this is Miller’s film. Though she’s featured in several big Hollywood productions of late, she’s more often than not left to play a wife or mother. She’s that here too, clearly, but her character is at the forefront, a woman with her own drive and agency. Miller throws herself into all aspects of it, showing all the rage and warmth, frustration and humour you could want, and it’s the role and performance of her career.

Paul Greenwood