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TIFF 2019 Review: American Woman

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A fugitive activist living underground is recruited by a university professor to prevent law enforcement agencies from capturing a group of violent revolutionaries while they write a book about themselves.

Jenny is a housemaid working for an elderly lady who writes personal letters while wearing gloves and discretely mails them; the routine gets interrupted when she is approached by a publisher familiar with her fugitive past who offers her a job.  He wants to her chaperone the remaining members of an armed activist organization subjected to a nationwide manhunt draft while they write a book dealing with their cause and activities.  Among them is Pauline, the daughter of one of the most influential families in America.  Things take a violent turn which leads to Jenny and Pauline going on a road trip.

Framing the narrative with Jenny being interviewed in prison is a conventional but effective technique.  Filmmaker Semi Chellas makes a wise decision in having the story unfold from the perspective of Jenny with occasional moments of when Pauline gets to tell her point of view.  Even though there is a sexual tension between the two female companions, thankfully Chellas shows restraint and does not feel the need for them to become lovers.  Hong Chau gives a nuanced performance as Jenny and Ellen Burstyn is charming and feisty as the elderly lady.  The rest of the cast lacks the emotional range and believability of Chau and Burstyn which undermines the tension and suspense of the storytelling.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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