Producers: Jordan Horowitz and Rachel Brosnahan Director: Julia Hart Screenplay: Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz Cast: Rachel Brosnahan, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Arinzé Kene, James McMenamin, Marceline Hugot, Frankie Faison, Bill Heck, De’Mauri Parks, Jameson Charles, Justin Charles, Barrett Shaffer. Jarrod DiGiorgi and Lynda Marnoni Distributor: Amazon Studios
It’s always interesting when a film flips a cliché and presents a familiar trope from a different perspective, but the change in POV needs to be compelling for the switch to be satisfying. In the case of “I’m Your Woman,” it’s only partially so.
In gangland movies, it’s often the case that when the protagonist is threatened by his enemies, he sends away his wife and family to a place of supposed safety before addressing the problem, and the usual practice is to follow his progress until normalcy has been restored and a reunion is possible—or not, in the case of a downbeat ending. In this case, however, Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz take the tack of following the criminal’s wife into exile, and watching her go through a character change while events surrounding her husband occur off screen, heard about rather than shown. It’s a clever twist on genre formula—or would be if the execution generated more intensity than it does.
Rachel Brosnahan, of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” plays Jean, whom we meet as a bored suburban housewife in the 1970s, reflecting sadly in voiceover about how her dreams of home and family haven’t been fully realized. She’s especially depressed that she and her husband Eddie (Bill Heck) haven’t been able to have a child. Imagine her happiness, then, when he suddenly brings a squealing infant home and hands him over to Jean, even though it’s never explained where the kid comes from. Jean doesn’t press the point; she just names him Harry.
The next surprise is less happy. A confederate of Eddie’s named Cal (Arinzé Kene) bursts into the house, explaining that Eddie’s been targeted by a rival and has gone underground and that he’s been delegated to escort Jean and Harry to safety. They pack up clothes and cash and drive away.
At their first stop in a supposed safe place, a row house in an unnamed rustbelt city (the picture was shot in and around Pittsburgh), it becomes clear that Jean is hardly equipped to be on her own. Eddie, she explains at one point, never even let her drive, and at another she’ll need to be taught to fire a gun. In any event the safe house turns out to be anything but, as Jean and Evelyn (Marceline Hugot), a sweet, helpful neighbor, grimly find out.
Now Cal and Jean are off to a remote cabin, where they’re soon joined by his wife Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake) and son Paul (De’Mauri Parks) as well as Cal’s father Art (Frankie Faison); he’s the one who teaches Jean to shoot, a skill that will necessarily be tested later on. Cal then goes off, and what follows is a long, rather meditative episode in which Jean spills a bit about her past to Teri and Art.
But when Cal fails to return, Teri and Jean go off to the city in search of him, leading to their getting caught up in a virtual riot caused by a blaze of gunfire at a club run by Eddie’s old partner Mike (James McMenamin). The women are briefly separated in the chaos, but reunite, at which point Teri finally opens up about her own past—and Eddie’s hold over their family.
Mike’s not done yet, though, and violence erupts when Jean, Cal and Teri try to escape the city. The upshot is that Jean is forced to prove that she has truly become Eddie’s woman (and Harry’s mother), though the cost to others is high.
There are intermittent points at which “I’m Your Woman” emulates a typical thriller—the episode at the row house, a car chase, the club riot. The last, in particular, is imaginatively staged and shot, as we’re shown most of the action from the perspective of Jean as she crouches terrified in a phone booth, snatches of pandemonium flying past her in the glass. The other action sequences, though—especially the car chase—don’t register strongly.
In any event, taken together they’re but a minor proportion of the film, which is actually a character study showing how Jean is forced to develop a spine as she goes through her travails. (Eddie’s journey is of much less concern: we’re told obliquely of his past and none-too-positive qualities, and his fate is reported rather than shown.) The problem is that there isn’t an awful lot of character to develop. Jean is pretty much a passive blank slate from the beginning, and the bits and pieces that emerge about her past over the course of the film are little more than that. As a result, when she emerges strengthened at the close, the change seems abrupt and not terribly persuasive.
Nonetheless Brosnahan brings some dramatic heft to her, especially in quieter moments like one she shares with Faison’s Art in the cabin as he rocks Harry to sleep, or Jean’s conversations with Evelyn, or a brief tearful interlude she shares with a compassionate woman (Lynda Marnoni) in a laundromat after escaping the club riot. Blake and Kene contribute strong turns, though both are forced to play many scenes so deliberately that one can feel the passage of seconds between the lines. (At a full two hours, “I’m Your Woman” does drag.) The technical side is adequate, with Gae Buckley’s production design and Bryce Fortner’s cinematography conveying the general darkness and grubbiness of the milieu and costumer Natalie O’Brien not overdoing the period trappings. The editing by Tracey Wadmore-Smith and Shayar Bjansali could have helpfully speeded things up a tad, but presumably Hart wanted the pacing to be as deliberate as it is; Aska Matsumiya’s score is an apt contribution to the somber mood.
One of the few glimmers of humor in the film, incidentally, comes during the closing credits. Jameson and Justin Charles are credited as playing little Harry, but then Barrett Shaffer is listed as “Additional Harry.” It’s unclear whether he actually appears in some scenes, or just did a bit of the soundtrack crying. A credit is a credit, though.