Rachel Brosnahan makes her case for a potential Oscar nomination in this hard-boiled 1970s mob tale.
It’s interesting how little is emotionless many of the characters look. Which makes sense, as danger is usually just around the corner. Brosnahan and many others’ body language is closed off, whispering to each other, locked jaws, and constantly looking back in case anyone is there.
I appreciate that director Julia Hart lets Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) and many other characters not these instant mob bosses, rather letting Jean screw up more often than she succeeds. She takes all the good things from crime dramas that many remember from the 1970s and modernizes it with a study of Jean’s character with her husband and longtime collaborator Jordan Horowitz about what a wife of a criminal does after she’s forced to go on the run.
The story is not unlike her previous feature, Fast Color. Hart takes the palette of the 1970s in the middle of autumn and finds joy in those visual contrasts. However, the story structure becomes painfully clear.
I’m Your Woman is quite a unique film, with a great premise and an all-star cast. For those Marvelous Miss Maisel fans, I think this Hart seems to be seeking meaning with the aforementioned body language, as there is not much actual dialogue within. This gives way to the actual story suffering from how much these stretches last. By the time the film ends, it doesn’t have the same punch that it would have had with more time in the writer’s room. By the time we’re whisked out of one situation, we don’t have the time to actually sit with the consequences of the situation we just got out of.
Jean begins the film not being able to cook an omelet, a fact the film really hammers home any time it can.
With her husband nowhere to be found, Jean finds a way forward with a former associate of Eddie’s. In this, the film finds a way to show us the perspective of a life that’s been on the run for years.
Before he’s quickly shuffled off-screen, Eddie (Bill Heck) is an unnaturally pleasant guy, considering his profession. The kind of guy that wins loyalty just by walking in the room and saying hello. After he makes a move that forces him underground and places a target on his family’s backs, the two are woken up in the middle of the night with a stash of cash and Cal (Arinzé Kene), a driver who used to work with Eddie and makes sure Jean is safe and to kill anyone in the way of that safety with the efficiency of a hitman. In another one of the film’s brilliant twists, he’s good with kids.
This is crucial for new mother Jean, as Harry’s only a few months old and appeared out of seemingly thin air. That’s because Eddie brought Harry home, just like you would bring home McDonald’s.
When Eddie brings Harry home, instead of this rapturous moment where life’s beauty is displayed, Hart decides to treat this as just another day under the sun.
Smartly, Hart doesn’t choose to exploit this potential weakness. Instead, Hart decides to let Harry bond with Jean and pure love becomes the basis for their relationship.
With the adults, however, there’s a push and pull between them. No one ever reveals any information they don’t need to in case it can be used against them later. Kene turns the conventional hitman or whatever he was doing for Eddie and portrays it with a lingering sense of constant anxiety beneath his hard-to-read surface, serving as an occasional foil to Jean’s bright-eyed view of Eddie’s work.
Taking place somewhere in Pittsburgh to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, Jean is like a dog following a car. She doesn’t know where she’s going and trusts Cal completely. The film never questions his loyalty, but rather his motives, something answered by his wife Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), son (Da’Mauri Parks), and father (Frankie Faison) after they arrive at the cabin. Teri is what happens when you’ve been on the run for a long time, having all the confidence and smarts required to survive. Essentially, she is the person who Jean can become.
All of the makings of a great film are there. Unfortunately, the way the script is handled just leaves the viewer with a sense of general exhaustion. Even in a showpiece for all of the production design and score, we’re dazzled with visuals but still feels like a needless detour for the story.
During Jean’s time in the city, the film’s highlight unexpectedly becomes a stretch of the story involving a nosy neighbor (Marceline Hugot). Outside of this, the film is most engaging in quiet moments. Moments like these make me wish for room for the film to breathe.
Rachel Brosnahan is giving a career performance that shows another side to her. Jean isn’t perfect. Prior to the main plot, she doesn’t have a care in the world. As the film progresses, Hart puts the spotlight on Jean finding her feet. By the film’s end, we know exactly what Jean has been through and finally accepting what she has to do to survive.
I’m Your Woman releases in theaters as a limited release on December 4th and heads to Amazon Prime Video a week later on December 11th.