American Women,
a.k.a. The Closer You Get
directed by Aileen Ritchie
(Fox Searchlight, 2000)

I'm a sucker for small-budget films about the sometimes odd people you'll find in charming little villages, in bleak urban cities, in isolated small towns. And movies set in Britain and Ireland seem to have a corner on one segment of this genre. Local Hero. The Full Monty. Waking Ned Devine.

And, two years after Ned Devine comes Kieran, Ian, Sean and Pat, all bachelor lads but one, who inhabit a small seaside hamlet in Ireland where they bluster on cluelessly about women and life and beer and women and ... well, women.

The Closer You Get, released on DVD in the U.S. as American Women, is firmly in the family of movies about people who've never gone anywhere, living all their lives in a town where no one new ever visits or moves. They've all known each other since birth, they all know each other's parents and each other's marital woes and each other's business.

The only things they don't know well are their own hearts.

Bypassing all the local women, the town's young men decide they're going to advertise in the Miami Herald for young American women "between the ages of 20 and 21" to come to town for an annual dance. So convinced of their own irresistability, they wait surreptitiously by the bus stop for the lovely young things to show.

The women, meanwhile, have steamed open the U.S.-bound envelope (because no one ever sends mail to Miami), read the advertisement and developed a backup plan of their own.

There are flashes of something special in American Women -- like the town priest, who broadcasts over a loudspeaker, starts a film society showcasing wholesome classics like The Song of Bernadette and attempts to advise the bachelors on the honorable way to court women without ever using the "s" word.

And Ian Hart gives a bantam's strut to Kieran, the butcher who works beside his true love every day and would rather drink himself silly, dye his hair platinum and bluster after American strangers than admit Siobhan's the one for him (and he's pursued other out-of-towners before, notably a girl from Yorkshire who, "when she finally arrived, I couldn't speak. So exotic!") Look closely, and you'll recognize Hart as Prof. Quirinus Quirrell of the Harry Potter empire.

It's a pleasant enough movie, with small ambitions to match what presumably was a small budget (makes setting your movie in a small town even more practical). But much of what it does -- the neighborly complaining, the marital battles, the mock confidence -- has been done before, and more memorably, within the Scottish seaside of Local Hero and the Irish countryside of Waking Ned Devine.

Trivia: According to, the film's main producer, Uberto Passolini, may take a back seat to his wife, Rachel Portman -- a well-regarded film score composer who not only handled American Women (are you surprised?), but also The Cider House Rules, Beloved, Chocolat and the most recent film about Truman Capote, Infamous.

by Jen Kopf
17 February 2007

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