1974, post flower power America was rocked by the confounding, headline hogging tale of billionaire daughter turned radical revolutionary Patty Hearst. Her Che Guevera pose in front of the Symbionese Liberation Flag, totally rocking a chic beret, army fatigues and machine gun, became the poster of choice for anti fascist revolutionaries. The evocative, is she or isn't she? Stockholm syndrome question death gripped an ogling Nation.
Great story, perfect movie fodder, except here it merely serves as a background of events for an equally complex character, that of Wendy Yoshimura, herself a committed (non-violent) revolutionary, Patty babysitter, and as it turns out a future water colour artist.
Sure sure, the names have been changed - to Jenny and Pauline, but this fictionalized herstory follows actual events quite closely. Focusing on a rational, dedicated and idealistic member of an inflammatory group speeding towards the flame, Jenny is as intriguing a character as the confused ex-debutante. A child of war internment camps, relegated to stereotypical servant duties that American Asians suffered through, an expert bomber, and regularly dismissed as gender inferior by chest-inflating men, Jenny is a stoic tower of strength and methodically fights through some crazy crap to get things done.
Shot in seventies California browns, and acted to pinpoint perfection by Hong Chau (Ellen Burstyn is also divine), "American Woman" captures the pulse (sometimes racing, sometimes not) of an exhilarating and convoluted time when everything seemed to be on the table, by glimpsing the frustrations, hardships, and drudgery, among the idealism clashes of off the grid non-citizens.
Less focused on gunplay and the sensationalized rebel life, "American Woman" deals with the inner conflicts of a diverse group on the verge of combustion, creating a quiet sense of tension in their daily, on the lam life. Viewers expecting bombast, cookie cutter action and punchy plot, will be disappointed. This is a nuance film. A slow burn. A thinker. A mood piece. And probably closer to the truth than most people would hope for.