I'm Your Woman
In many crime/thrillers, the man keeps his wife/girlfriend/mistress in the dark while he gets up to his misdeeds. Her job is to take care of their home/family and not ask questions while he kills or steals or whatever. Then he gets in too deep and stashes her away somewhere and she becomes a plot device; his motivation for staying alive.
I’m Your Woman (streaming on Amazon Prime) places us on the other side of that equation. We stay with the wife as she runs, hides and tries to figure out what her deceitful husband has gotten her into. This isn’t merely a spin on the genre; it is a thoughtful character study that subtly tackles womanhood, motherhood and race. I came in expecting a noir-ish thriller and also got a complex portrait of a woman evolving into everything she has to be in order to survive, first through desperation, then through desire. This is a really good movie.
Jean knows her husband, Eddie, is a thief. One day, he unexpectedly arrives home with a baby, telling her it is theirs. Sometime later, Eddie has a meeting with some men and doesn’t return. Jean is told to leave with his associate Cal, who has been tasked with keeping her safe. Thus begins her perilous journey of self-discovery.
I’m Your Woman is set in the 70s. The filmmaking team has put together an impressive production that not only replicates the look of the period, but the look of movies from that period. The set and costume design are both good. Still, what really caught my eye were some of the shot choices and camera movements by cinematographer Bryce Fortner.
It felt like there were intentional visual references to Coppola’s Godfather trilogy (Jean is reminiscent of Michael’s wife, Kay, who was similarly constantly lied to by her husband) and the work of John Cassavetes (most notably Gloria, also a character study about a woman on the run from dangerous men while caring for a child). It is done in a way that could be shorthand for some audience members and works for this specific story. What he does isn’t flashy, but it is right for the material. Though mirrors and doorways are used as metaphors on a few occasions, this is fairly straight-forward. The most effective tool for a story like this to bring us inside the mind of its protagonist is often to just let us look at them. Editors Shayar Bhansali and Tracey Wadmore-Smith and director Julia Hart help here, seeming to always know exactly how long to hold the shot for.
Julia Hart was unknown to me until last year, when I saw Fast Color (much as she does here, she co-wrote it with her husband, Jordan Horowitz, and directed). That was an excellent movie that used the superhero genre as a backdrop to explore the multi-generational struggles of three woman. Like she did there, Hart uses a genre setup to tell an intimate story about a woman dealing with her own identity. This is even more striking because the genres they are working in tend to focus primarily on men. That is not always the case (2018’s fantastic Widows, about a group of women who decide to fill in for their dead bank-robber husbands, comes to mind). However, I’m Your Woman is a drama that happens to take place in the world of crime. It is about how Jean responds to her life being pulled out from under her.
Part of what makes that so fascinating is the performance of Rachel Brosnahan in the lead. Most recognizable as the title character on the Amazon Prime comedy series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (for which she has won an Emmy and two Golden Globes), Brosnahan shows she can dial down the energy, replacing it with an even higher level of determination and desperation. Here, her best moments are her reaction shots, where we can see her thinking, piecing together information and making decisions. Watching her grow from helpless trophy wife to someone who will actively fight to protect herself and her child is a continuously compelling experience. I’m not sure I would have thought of her for the role. It turns out she is wonderful in it.
Additionally, there are two very strong supporting performances from Arinzé Kene as Cal, quiet and caring, but fierce when he needs to be, and Marsha Stephanie Blake as his wife, Teri, cool, controlled and matter-of-fact about Jean’s situation. They could have been used just to get from point A to point B, yet Hart allows them so much nuance, without using them for exposition dumps, that it gives Blake, especially, the opportunity to do award-worthy work.
Much like with Fast Color, it is easy to see how the outline of I’m Your Woman could have led to a simple genre exercise. Instead, Julia Hart uses it to tell a story about womanhood and race, that has an interesting crime plot as well. I am excited to see what she does next. I am also excited to watch this movie again.
4¼ out of 5
Rachel Brosnahan as Jean
Arinzé Kene as Cal
Marsha Stephanie Blake as Teri
Jameson Charles, Justin Charles and Barrett Shaffer as Harry
Frankie Faison as Art
De’Mauri Parks as Paul
Bill Heck as Eddie
Directed by Julia Hart
Written by Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz