Over the weekend I watched the movie American Woman. The heroine (Deb) is a single woman in her early thirties who lives with her teenage daughter across the street from what’s left of her family in a working class town in Pennsylvania. Deb has a job in some kind of big box store, smokes, drinks and has affairs with married men. She is a mess and her daughter, who’s just had a baby boy out of wedlock, seems to be following in her footsteps.
Deb is not a bad mother. She’s just a pretty girl who got pregnant at sixteen and now grabs whatever fun she can regardless of consequences. Are there opportunities available to her that she’s not taking advantage of? We really don’t know. We only see her family becoming increasingly aggravated with her behavior. Until … enter the cruel plot twist.
The movie skips over a period of years to show Deb’s painful crawl toward a more socially acceptable lifestyle. Finally, another cruel plot twist (this one expected) and she has enough self-confidence to leave town with her then teenage grandson.
I grew up in a gambling town. Many of my friends had single, working class mothers. Those with good legs worked as cocktail waitresses (better tips), those who were good at math were dealers, and those with no particular skills worked as maids or waitresses. The casinos were open twenty-four hours, seven days a week, and holidays which gave them more flexibility in their working hours. Men were generally bad news and the smart women preferred to go it alone depending on neighbors, who also worked at the clubs, for childcare help.
I guess there is a plus side to living in a gambling town. But don’t make me say it twice.
Here’s what bothered me about American Woman. Being a single mother at any age is a brutal plot twist but being a teenage single mother is especially brutal. You don’t need to throw in the loss of a child to make their transformation acceptable to your audiences.
Here’s the point that should have been made and wasn’t: American women who find themselves in Deb’s situation (for whatever reason) get no help from the government and are often blamed for the situation they are in. I didn’t become a single mother until I was in my late thirties and had a college education. Unless you have strong family support, it’s a brutal plot twist.
Gads – sounds like a stumping speech for Elizabeth Warren, doesn’t it? It isn’t. I’m still undecided. But she does have a point.