Set in the 1970’s, Rachel Brosnahan stars as Jean, a suburban housewife who is living a seemingly uneventful life, filling her time with sunbathing and lounging. She is married to and supported by the shifty Eddie (Bill Heck), who provides due to his career as a thief. But the peaceful time is short-lived when Eddie betrays his collaborators, Jean is given a bag of money, an infant and specific instructions as she finds herself on the run. Her only source of protection is the mysterious Cal (Arinze Kene) an old friend of Eddie’s, who takes Jean and the baby to a safe house.
But when Cal mysteriously disappears, Jean finds herself thrown into a world of crime, motherhood and self-discovery as she befriends Cal’s wife, the headstrong Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake). The two join forces to dive deep into the crime underworld in order to survive and protect the people they love.
“I’m Your Woman” (2020) is the second film of the year from writer/director Julia Hart — the first being the Disney+ coming-of-age film “Stargirl” (2020). Hart has ventured into genre work before with screenwriting duties in the revisionist western “The Keeping Room” (2014) and the superhero survival tale “Fast Color” (2018). But what makes her work special is how humane she makes her films; how even the smallest actions we do every day for ourselves happen every day truly matter.
In the case of her latest film, Hart – along with her husband/writer/producer Jordan Horowitz – delve into the crime genre and have made their best film yet. The world building of the film is both comfortably familiar and beautifully refreshing. With the warm colors of yellow and orange to convey the over stylized look of a perfect homelife, the copious use of pink and magenta to convey the glitz and glamour of the crime nightlife – particularly in a scene set in a nightclub — or the striking costume work consisting of beige jackets, fur coats and of course, dapper oversized sunglasses, Hart (with fantastic support from DP Bryce Fortner, art director Gary Kosko and costume designer Natalie O’Brien) is not afraid to tip her hat towards genre conventions as well as lending scrupulous period detail.
However, Hart what manages to do is strip most of the artifice the genre carries and distil it down to its bare essentials, whilst also providing some welcome subversions. There is no exploration on the thrill of committing crime but seeing the ramifications of crime rippling throughout. For example, we rarely ever see the events and consequences of the male characters’ actions that propel the plot; only the ripples and consequences that the women have to face. Another example is how in the case of crime films, the female characters are usually ones that stay home and worry for their husbands in their life of crime. In the case of I’m Your Woman, it is the women that face the mistakes (or deny, which lends the storytelling welcome twists and turns) their male partners have made.
Mentioning these subversions may bring familiarity to films like “Widows” (2018) and “The Kitchen” (2019). But in I’m Your Woman, Hart delivers on her themes of empowerment and escaping from self-institution of compliance through action and character, rather than platitudes or didactic speeches. The film starts off with Jean trying to cook for her husband by making him eggs and toast and her struggle to do a menial task. At one point, Jean mentions that Eddie did not even like her driving the car.
So, when the plot kicks in, one would think Jean would vent her frustrations towards her husband or something in relation to his line of work. But oddly, she remains surprisingly inert and when she eventually vents her frustrations, she lets it out due to getting her domestic duties incorrectly i.e. cooking eggs. Hart and Horowitz display through action and remarkable subtlety in order to convey that Jean is essentially co-dependent of her husband, even though his screen time remains scant.
But slowly and surely enough, the character arc of Jean following through for her own survival, venting her frustrations as well as caring for her loved ones is a low-key, yet extremely rewarding path. From seeing the contrast of her own marital relationship to the relationship of Cal and Teri to forming a friendship with Teri, the intimate interactions between her and Cal – including a wonderful sequence where the two sing the song (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman by Aretha Franklin in relation to calming a baby – to of course learning how to fire a gun; Hart and Horowitz lay down the foundations of Jean with effortless simplicity. They also are unafraid to explore the doubt that Jean exhibits, which lends a source of tension to the proceedings as her own action/inaction like her duties of taking care of the baby in spite of being told to stay inside the house.
Speaking of simplicity, the cast all lend excellent work to their roles; making their characters feel like genuine, three-dimensional personalities that are easy to relate to. Brosnahan conveys the vulnerability, self-denial/doubt and strong resolve in the character of Jean effortlessly and while we may not always agree with her actions, Brosnahan conveys enough emotional truth to make Jean compelling and cathartic to watch as she becomes her honest self, which also happens to be her best self. Kene lends a mysterious air to the role of Cal as he conveys utmost focus towards the task at hand, loyalty to his people (whom which we barely see) and yet he gradually reveals a more considerate side that comes across as natural and believable. As for the supporting cast, Blake makes a great impression as a crime world-weary woman who has been through it all while veteran actor Frankie Faison lends welcome presence as grandfather Art, who teaches Jean about modes of survival.
Overall, I’m Your Woman is another hit for Hart as she lends a refreshing spin in the crime genre; exploring it in intimate and clever ways that hearken back the more contemplative crime films of the 1970’s. Highly recommended.
I’m Your Woman is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.