Skip to main content
film review

Hong Chau stars in writer-director Semi Chellas's American Woman.Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

  • American Woman
  • Directed by Semi Chellas
  • Written by Semi Chellas based on the novel by Susan Choi
  • Starring Hong Chau, Sarah Gadon and Ellen Burstyn
  • Classification 14A; 85 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

Heist movies usually focus on the crime; road movies on the road. American Woman flicks at those genres, but its focus is somewhere else – on the relationships that develop in the liminal spaces between moments of intensity. It’s 1975, and Pauline (Sarah Gadon, recently of Alias Grace) is an heiress-turned-radical who may have been brainwashed by her kidnappers, à la Patty Hearst. Jenny (Hong Chau, so memorable in Downsizing) is an ex-radical, hired to keep the other radicals safe while she writes their memoirs.

Imagine a Thelma and Louise or Badlands composed mainly of spare conversations – and keep an eye on who’s really radicalizing whom. Writer and director Semi Chellas, making her feature debut, honed her considerable talents in the writers’ room of Mad Men, where the characters Peggy, Joan and Betty blossomed under her care. She’s not afraid to whisper big questions (what is identity, anyway?), to make space for small, beautiful moments (pelicans!), or to keep things quietly tense. Because even a slow simmer eventually boils over.

American Woman is available digitally on-demand starting June 30

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.