“This is a meticulous and wise film, which simultaneously references and critiques the movies and stories that serve as its influences.”
by Ken Bakely
Reflective, smart, and efficient, Julia Hart’s I’m Your Woman is a thoughtful character study and involving, ‘70s-set crime thriller. It exercises the elements and ideas of its placement and genre while creating a sturdy profile of its main character, discussing the people within, and the emotional costs of, the stories it takes inspiration from, and strives to put these qualities in the forefront. Rachel Brosnahan stars as Jean, a housewife whose suburban life has been suddenly upended: her husband, Eddie (Bill Heck), a criminal of some variety, has unexpectedly brought home a baby for the couple to raise, without warning or explanation of how this happened. Shortly after, he vanishes from the house altogether, while Cal (Arinzé Kene), one of Eddie’s associates, tells Jean to take their new child and escape as well. He accompanies Jean and the baby (a son, named Harry) to an ensuing series of hideaways, but it’s clear that there are many questions which won’t receive satisfying answers – since, above all, they all must remain as undetectable and secretive as possible, lest the forces that have set this chaos into motion catch onto their whereabouts. Though Jean, Cal, and Harry are eventually joined in their journey by Cal’s wife, Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), father Art (Frankie Faison), and son Paul (Da’mauri Parks), the film is still told primarily through Jean’s perspective, as she considers how factors beyond her scope have affected her own life so profoundly, and what to do now that they have.
Indeed, though there are many twists and turns throughout the course of the film, and there are some more conventionally staged action setpieces towards the plot’s climax, most of I’m Your Woman is centered on Jean’s character development – how she reacts to the events going on around her, and how she arrives at the choices that she makes. Rachel Brosnahan delivers a commanding lead performance; she always pays attention to both the uncertainty in the surreal nature of Jean’s situation and the resolve she realizes. These qualities are also intelligently explained in the script, written by Hart and Jordan Horowitz. It’s certainly never lost on them that, in telling a story around the boundaries of where it might have been conventionally structured – carefully telling a story around the largely unseen men who would typically be expected to anchor a tale like this – it’s one of underseen perspectives observed and focused upon. The film’s finessed characterization reaches beyond the protagonist: though the movie is unquestionably fixed foremost on her, it isn’t merely concerned with her development alone. Hart strives to give everyone, regardless of their comparative level of screen time, enough background, motivation, and outlook that immediately give us a sense of who they are. The supporting actors – particularly Kene, Blake, and Faison – round out a capable ensemble of solid, depthful performances.
It’s an attention to detail, manifest in many ways, which represents the film’s forte, from the finer points of its scripting to its appearance. I’m Your Woman boasts impeccable production design (from Gae S. Buckley), with its period trappings ensconcing us in a lived-in recreation of its time period, further matched by Bryce Fortner’s sumptuous cinematography, which emphasizes deep, rich tones that further help place us in a vividly realized world. Even though the movie can sometimes falter when trying to connect the major points of its plot, and can occasionally lose its way as it goes on – as a story that’s so based on internalized ideas, with the notion that the plot is externally moved by people who are, by design, not on screen – Hart’s strong capabilities as a director provide a clear overriding vision. This is a complex and wise film, which simultaneously references and critiques the movies and stories that serve as its influences. It’s a fascinating achievement to simply take in: there’s always something going on within multiple layers, and on a moment-to-moment level, it can be meaningful and audaciously expressive in loud and quiet sequences alike. In fact, it’s in those contrasts that it softly makes its most astute observations.