Had it been written by a man, I’m Your Woman would be a very different story indeed. Which might be stating the obvious, but hear me out. In that version of the 1970s-set gangster film, it’s the story of Eddie (Bill Heck), a worker bee in an organized crime unit who makes the wrong guys angry and has to go on the run. He leaves behind his wife (Rachel Brosnahan) and infant son without so much as a goodbye (let alone an explanation), and the rest of the film is spent in gun battles and car chases and an escalating sense of dread as we wait to discover if Eddie will get out of whatever he got himself into.
It’s a movie we’ve seen a million times before, a version of which is probably being filmed (or at least written) right now and the kind of film we surely will see plenty more of in the future.
Thankfully, in filmmaker Julia Hart’s capable hands, I’m Your Woman (co-written by Jordan Horowitz) is something else entirely, something we’ve never seen before and something very welcome in an all-too-often hum-drum film scene. There are gun battles and car chases here, but with Hart at the helm (Stargirl, Fast Color, Miss Stevens) the ’70s noir gangster film gets a thrilling facelift as she turns the camera on the woman left behind, the woman who doesn’t even factor into that other, boring version of the film.
Brosnahan is Jean, a perfectly coiffed, slickly manicured kept woman whose biggest problem is the tag in her lounging gown agitating her genteel sensibilities. Without anything resembling an explanation, her husband Eddie returns home one day with an infant he hands to Jean. “He’s ours,” he says, and just like that, Jean is a mother. Not that it isn’t something she’s wanted, longed for for years; we learn over the course of the film that she and Eddie have tried for children of their own, never successfully. And when he brings the baby—who Jean names Harry—home, she doesn’t let her surprise keep her from attempting to become a mother overnight (keyword being “attempting”).
It isn’t long after Harry joins their family that Eddie leaves it, running into trouble with his bosses and disappearing from Jean’s life. Again without explanation, Eddie’s colleague Cal (Arinzé Kene) whisks Jean and Harry away under the cover of night, promising to set them up in a safe house where they can hide until the danger around Eddie dissipates. Jean awkwardly totes Harry around on her hip and asks more questions than Cal cares to indulge, and eventually she’s on her own in a big house in the suburbs with a baby to raise and no idea what’s going to happen to them next.
Without ever shifting the narrative to the trouble Eddie’s gotten himself into (in fact, we never see him again), Jean’s life continues to unravel in response to the mess he’s made. After a close call at the safe house, Cal moves Jean and Harry again, this time to a rural cabin where Jean is surprised by Cal’s wife (Marsha Stephanie Blake), father (Frankie Faison) and young son Paul (De’Mauri Parks) who also come to stay for safety. Through it all, the sheen she had so carefully cultivated to gloss over the gaps in her unfulfilling life begins to crumble and we see Jean evolve into a woman she’s always wanted to be but never knew how to become. The terms on which she defines herself are shifting under her feet, from being a self-professed “horrible cook” to having any clue how to quiet a crying baby to finally having enough of being shuffled from safe house to safe house and taking her fate (and that of her child) into her own hands. Brosnahan embodies Jean’s evolution with grace, each step into the unknown of this new version of herself timid at first and then bold all at once.
In a relatively short period of time (her feature directorial debut, Miss Stevens, premiered at SXSW in 2016), Hart has established herself as a bold filmmaker unapologetically interested in telling original stories with more than capable casts and creative teams at the ready to help her do so. I’m Your Woman is her most ambitious project yet, and it delivers both as an unexpected twist on a retro gangster film and as a statement on evolving female identity. More, please.
I’m Your Woman is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
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