The hardest part about any given awards season is watching performances deserving of attention be ignored. There are many factors but the most prominent is visibility. Sienna Miller‘s stunning and career-best performance in Jake Scott’s “American Woman” hasn’t been nominated by any groups so far and is likely to continue to go overlooked. That should change.
Miller has always been a great actress, often regulated to supporting roles. Every so often, she gets to be front-and-center (“Factory Girl”) and audiences are gifted the chance to see what Miller can do. “American Woman” allows her to live so deeply and empathetically inside the role of Debra. The beauty of Miller’s performance is its lack of flash. It’s a stripped-down, soul-bearing look at grief and what comes after.
Debra is the tough-talking, beer-drinking black sheep of her family. She has a teenage daughter, who goes missing. Debra starts knocking on doors and following anything resembling a lead she has about where her daughter could be. Days and weeks turn to months and there is no sign of Debra’s daughter. She begins to assume the worst without ever losing a shred of hope her daughter will walk through the door.
As any mother would, Debra wonders if she could have been a better parent. “American Woman” isn’t a missing persons procedural but about one woman’s journey through grief. Miller’s performance runs a gaunlet of emotions. How can she live with the guilt she feels about her daughter going missing? As the movie progresses, life slowly begins to move forward. Miller takes us on Debra’s journey with her and shows us life after heartache. It never goes away. It doesn’t get easier. Life simply finds a way.
Miller’s performance is a balancing act. One minute Debra is brash and yelling at someone, the next she is taking in a quiet moment when the plot reveals itself. Miller calibrates her performance to every moment of Debra’s trajectory. “American Woman” might not have one cent to spend on a marketing campaign but her performance speaks for itself. It’s the best leading actress performance of 2019.