I'm Your Woman
December 29, 2020
Marsha Stephanie Blake
he crime drama is most partial to exploring the emotional lives of male criminals. When a whole genre builds on this male-centricity, the women who love them resultingly are rarely given quite as much textured consideration. When women do appear in the male-centered crime drama, they are most often thrust into two roles: the femme fatale who does little except speed up our hero’s inexorable ruin; the wife or
long-term girlfriend who does not do much aside from bemoan how little she sees of her hubby — how these days it doesn’t seem like he’s interested in her the way he used to be. I’m Your Woman, the latest project from husband-wife filmmaking team Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz (she directed, he produced; together, they wrote the screenplay), is a response to a hypothetical I’m sure has crossed many a viewer’s minds watching certain crime dramas. What would this movie look like if it unfolded from the point of view of its woman lead?
Jean (Rachel Brosnahan), the heroine of I’m Your Woman, is most spiritually akin to the long-suffering wives of The Godfather (1972) and GoodFellas
(1990) played, respectively, by Diane Keaton and Lorraine Bracco. In I’m Your Woman, everything Jean has come to know about herself and her life is thrown up in the air. As the film opens, she’s lounging in her backyard, a cocktail in her right hand and a cigarette in her left, resplendent in a gossamer magenta nightgown, octangular sunglasses, and tan pumps. A Bobbie Gentry song thrums in the background. Jean is a housewife, and we’re meant to take in this tableau to the tune of, this is what most of her days are like. Jean’s husband, Eddie (Bill Heck), is a small-time criminal (the nightgown is tellingly still tagged), and she doesn’t ask any questions when night falls.
Two curves are thrown at Jean at the beginning of I’m Your Woman. Eddie comes home one day after “work” carrying in his arms a present — a baby. (We learn that Jean had for a long time been trying to get pregnant but recently gave up; she and Eddie couldn’t adopt because of Eddie’s record.) She demures rather than air out her gripes with the brash decision, and names the baby Harry. Then, a little while later, Jean is awoken one night (Eddie still isn’t home) by loud banging on the door. She is told by a man she has never seen before named Cal (Arinzé Kene) that she and the kid need to pack up and get out of here right now. Eddie, whom Jean romantically describes as a thief but not a killer, has ostensibly pissed some very bad people off and is nowhere to be found. Better Jean makes herself hard to find, too. Cal, apparently a colleague of Eddie’s, is like Jean’s chaperone to her new life; he becomes the person on whom she can depend when things go haywire. (He shuttles her from safe house to safe house like a bodyguard.) We won’t know why, exactly, he is so committed to her well-being until later on.
A movie lesser than I’m Your Woman might make Jean’s unexpected release from her humdrum existence immediately unleash a side of her she has long been burying. Many reviewers have noted that they had half-expected the movie (an experience I also had) to turn into a brassy empowerment movie, where Jean becomes a spewer of tough one-liners and comes to enliven the idea of the independent woman with chutzpah. Jean does eventually get to a place in I’m Your Woman where she displays the cool, take-matters-into-her-own-hands confidence of, say, Sharon Stone in Casino (1995) (whom Jean sartorially evokes in early scenes). But for most of the film we get to know a woman thrown for a loop and forced to find her way back to a kind of center. She has grown so accustomed to being a trusting wife that she isn’t quite sure what she is without this identity to define her. “I’ve never been on my own,” she admits.
The first act of the movie can drag. Most of it constitutes Jean moving to and from new locations to avoid trouble, looking increasingly depleted. (Harry sure knows how to scream-cry.) We can empathize with the sheer physical drainage she’s experiencing, but Hart and Horowitz haven’t established enough about the character for us to get too emotionally involved. But I’m Your Woman gets more enriching the more it reveals, and the more it drills in how much danger Jean is really in. (Threat almost doesn’t feel real until she unthinkingly invites in a kindly neighbor living by her safe house and there are dire consequences.) Hart and Horowitz have a way of sharing new details about the characters at the just-right moment, making an offhand comment reverberate more than it would in an earlier, more hurried scene. Brosnahan does an excellent job portraying Jean’s bemusement and loneliness, though is at her best in the movie’s later scenes, after she has done some introspection and shows a kind of fortitude she just a few weeks ago might not have been comfortable displaying.
Hart and Horowitz also astutely examine the racial politics inextricable from the story. Cal, who is Black, eventually has to involve his family in the ordeal — they get to be endangered by the film’s goings-on, too. I worried that the movie might treat Cal and his family as little more than figures there to provide for white, helpless Jean when she needed them — props, almost. But the filmmakers are as invested in the lives of its supporting characters as they are in Jean’s, and don’t gloss over how race factors into the relationships which form. Cal and Jean are pulled over at one point by a white officer who finds it suspicious that a Black man and a white woman would be traveling together with a baby. (Jean makes up a story on the fly to get them out of trouble.) And when Jean tells Cal’s wife, Teri (a terrific Marsha Stephanie Blake), that she has it harder than Cal and his family because she has a baby with her, Teri reminds her that nothing will ever actually be worse for her. (Teri, played by Blake with compelling resolve, could also star in her own movie.) I’m Your Woman is centrally about how Jean learns how to become self-sufficient after a lifetime of dependency. But it becomes a richer viewing experience because of the attention it pays to its supporting characters, and how it brings the emotional repercussions of typically thrilling crime-movie sequences to the fore. That’s in line with the film’s guiding goal: to explore the stories of characters routinely placed on the crime drama’s sidelines. It charts a new path. A-