Listless and Lost Potential: Our Review of ‘American Woman’

Posted in Movies, VOD/iTunes/DigitalDownload by - June 30, 2020
Listless and Lost Potential: Our Review of ‘American Woman’

She didn’t listen to what I say and really does need to stay away from me…

After debuting last spring and fall on the festival circuit, American Woman is now available via EST/VOD on all major platforms and it’s just a drab mess of a film that doesn’t come close to succeeding in anything that it wants to do.

Inspired by the headline-dominating kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst in 1974, this atmospheric drama is a fictionalized re-imagining of her time in hiding, from the perspective of Jenny (Hong Chau), a political activist assigned to take care of her.

It’s undeniable that there’s a good and compelling idea in American Woman but as a debut feature this just lands like a lead balloon that goes nowhere.

Adapting the novel by Susan Choi, there’s so much in American Woman that just feels tired and recycled as the characters are one dimensional and flat out boring.  It’s a listless examination inside a very skuzzy world and writer/director Semi Chellas just feels out of her depth trying to make something that either needed to be more emotionally in-depth or just more action packed end up being neither.

It’s all fine, but it really doesn’t make us care about any of the characters that are on screen.  As the film plays with both fact and fiction it tries to craft this air of tension in a room full of actors who just aren’t up to the job.  The entire imagining of this entire true to life event really plays disjointed and in a very unimaginative fashion, the film can’t decide if its characters are revolutionaries, criminals or just generally screwed up people.  It tries to let them be all of the above and as a result, we just don’t care what happens with any of them.

Hong Chau was fine as our bomb maker/writer/helper Jenny who was tasked to look after this crew while on the run but she never had that much to work with from minute one.  John Gallagher Jr. was trying WAY too hard to be sinister while Sarah Gadon in the ‘Patty Hearst-esque’ role of Pauline felt like she was playing it all manic because she could.  Ellen Burstyn was in this film for some reason as well while Canada’s own David Cubitt rounded it all out.

While it’s less of a film about the history of the time and more about the complexity that can develop inside relationships inside this situation, American Woman did have some genuine potential…but it just never got there due to underdeveloped characters and no reason to really get emotionally invested in anything that was happening to them.

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David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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