It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"How to Make an American Quilt" begins with the words, "For as long as I can remember . . ." These words, which open a good many nostalgic memoirs, invariably mean that things have gone on in the same way for years and years, but that now everything is about to change. The narrator is Finn (Winona Ryder), a Berkeley student who has returned to her family's roots to spend a last summer before the watershed of her marriage.
Finn's grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) and her great aunt (Anne Bancroft) live in a big old house in a sylvan California landscape, just down the road, I imagine, from the folks in "Moonlight and Valentino," which was last week's film about female bonding. For as long as Finn can remember, the two women and their friends have gathered for quilting bees, during which they sew into their quilts their hopes and memories. They're really going to need their thimbles this summer as they sew Finn's wedding quilt.
Finn is engaged to Sam (Dermot Mulroney), whose importance to the plot can be guessed by the fact that he is not included among the nine names in the principal credits. Finn isn't sure how she feels about marriage and a lifelong commitment, and that's why she wants to spend three months out of his sight, with the older women of her family and their friends.
During the course of the summer Sam will turn up, briefly, and there will also be visits from Finn's mother (Kate Capshaw) and all of the neighboring quilters, played by Maya Angelou, Kate Nelligan, Jean Simmons, Lois Smith and Alfre Woodard. It is Angelou, as Anna, who sets the master plan for each quilt, and keeps the others in line ("Anna used to work for my grandmother, but now it seems that they all work for her").