Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Bob's Cinema Diary: 6/12/19 -- Amerian Woman and Halston

American Woman

Grating in the early going, Sienna Miller's performance as an abrasive single mom and grandmother trying to scrape by in a small Pennsylvania town eventually finds its rhythm. American Woman provides Miller with an opportunity to play a woman who faces a cascading series of problems. When we meet Miller's Deb Callahan, she's having an affair with a married man (Kentucker Audley and trying to be a mother to her daughter (Sky Ferreira), a 17-year-old who already has a child of her own. Constantly at odds with her family (an older sister played by Christina Hendricks and a disapproving mother Amy Madigan), Deb faces a life-changing tragedy. Her daughter vanishes. Fearing the worst, Deb blames Tyler (Alex Neustaedter), the irresponsible teen father of her daughter's child. The movie then leaps ahead -- eventually by at least a decade -- to find Deb trying to take care of her grandson (her daughter remains missing) and living with an abusive lout (Pat Healy) she must get out of her life. Deb eventually takes up with a younger man (Aaron Paul) who seems really to love her and who makes a fine surrogate father for her now-teenaged grandson. Director Jake Scott gives the cast plenty to work with, as the movie moves toward its inevitable conclusion: Deb's emergence as an independent woman. Miller's roller-coaster performance hits strong notes. Hendricks does well as a loving but sensible sister who's married to a man (Will Sasso) who provides the one thing that Deb's life always seems to lack: continuity. Nicely rendered moments of reconciliation have an impact, but overall American Woman suffers from an overload of woe. Moreover, its title suggests ambitions that never are quite fulfilled.


Director Frédéric Tcheng's documentary follows the career of a fabled fashion designer whose work dominated nearly three decades: from hot pants to evening dresses sculpted from a single piece of fabric. Halston benefits from the arc of the designer's high-profile life. Born Roy Halston Frowick, Halston turned himself into a single-named icon who made a remarkable ascent. He began as a hat designer at prestigious Bergdorf Goodman and eventually created a brand of his own. Making use of interviews and footage from the glam world Halston inhabited, Tcheng brings us into Halston's orbit, which includes models and celebrities such as Liza Minnelli. Every story of a remarkable ascendance needs a steep decline. Halston has a doozy. Late in his career, the designer decided to enter the world of mass-marketing, partnering with J.C. Penny to open the doors of fashion to ordinary women. Feeling abandoned, Halston's high-end followers began to desert him. A variety of corporate maneuvers followed and Halston's empire eventually crumbled. When he died of AIDS in 1990, he was 57. In the whirl of success, drugs, and achievement that Tcheng shows us, Halston remains something of a mystery, a galvanizing figure who never fully emerges. But if you're a sucker for a rise-and-fall story or you're interested in fashion, Halston won't disappoint.

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