Synopsis – In this 1970s set crime drama, a woman is forced to go on the run after her husband betrays his partners, sending her and her baby on a dangerous journey.
My Take – I’m sure like myself, most continue to relish on the grandeur of gangster flicks, the most celebrated arm of the crime drama genre, which are often focused on scowling men and their dangerously violent exploits. All the while, operating like props in the background are their women who are left behind to take care of the household and never take part in the action, only acting as their conscience despite having little or no impact in the men’s decisions or the narrative itself in the long run.
However, in writer-director Julia Hart’s latest film, which she co-wrote with her husband, ‘La La Land’ producer Jordan Horowitz, flips the familiar script to bring the focus on the woman left behind, the woman who don’t usual even factor into the main story.
Sure, there are gun battles and car chases here, but director Hart builds a refreshing perspective in the form of a nuanced character piece that begins in the guise of a genre flick and evolves into something more.
Shot with a keen eye by Bryce Fortner and with a great deal of attention to period detail from designer Gae S Buckley, the film presents a handsomely devised and refreshingly cliché-free narrative which keeps you guessing throughout. It takes crazy turns and goes places we don’t expect, but at all times it remains true to its intention, which is to tell an outlandish crime story from the standpoint of the collateral damage.
While the film is definitely slow paced, it feels fresh, and provides Rachel Brosnahan, who is also the producer, an excellent opportunity to put some serious distance between herself and her ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel ‘ character with a very different story of liberation.
Set in 1970s Pittsburgh, the story follows Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) a meek lonely housewife who has resigned herself to a life of suburbia. Suffering in silence through her multiple miscarriages, her recovery from the emotional fallout has not been easy, so when her husband Eddie (Bill Heck) shows up with a baby in his arms and tells her that he belongs them, she doesn’t press him too much with questions, as she’s used to getting surprise gifts of uncertain origin from her husband, who’s a career thief with mob connections.
However, a few weeks later, when Eddie suddenly disappears, Jean and the baby become targets overnight, and are forced to trust her husband’s associate Cal (Arinzé Kene), a man she had never seen or heard of till she gets in his car. Soon both are bungled into a safe house in the middle of nowhere and left to fend for themselves. However, when Cal’s whereabouts too become unknown, Jean bands with his wife Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), who informs her of the truth surrounding Eddie and his associates, to do whatever it takes to survive, and hope to break the cycle of violence.
Though everything bad that’s happening is eventually traced back to Eddie’s errant behavior, the story is really more about Jean, and how she copes with it all. As Jean, the silent consort, usually a passenger, is forced to take the driver’s seat after her husband’s crimes leave her defenseless. On the run with a baby in tow, she must confront some practical problems: feeding the baby, ensuring its crying doesn’t attract the attention of the whole neighborhood, and keeping your sanity while moving from one safe house to another. These problems would all have been conveniently overlooked in a male dominated thriller, but by challenging the variables taken for granted in the gangster genre, director Hart rewrites the story to recognize the truth of the female experience.
Sure, in terms of vibe, it is not as pacey as one would have expected it to be, as there’s a deliberate slowness to the narrative, even as it is punctuated by bursts of action. Director Hart deliberately keeps connections vague and withholds information to drive the mystery.
Till the final quarter of the film, Jean is pretty much operating on as much information as we are, that is until she manages to pulls the rug out from under the viewers.
Beyond aesthetic immersion, the racial bigotry also plays a part in transporting us to the ’70s. For example, while on the run, Cal is questioned by a policeman who assumes the only reason a white woman is being driven by a black man must be coercion. The intersection of race and gender isn’t entirely disregarded. It is narrowly represented in a short conversation, where Teri reminds Jean exactly who has it worse.
The final act puts the two women in the center of the action. Once her survival instincts kick in, we see a different Jean, one who stops reacting and starts acting as self-pity makes way for self-confidence. Although the bloody climax may not be as beguiling as the loneliness and anxiety that permeates the story, director Hart pulls in enough to make it all feel earned.
What further grounds the film are the performances, particularly that of Rachel Brosnahan who is outstanding in her role. Her character has a big arc, and the actress makes it believable. It’s easy to forget Brosnahan can play anyone but Mrs. Maisel, but this film blessedly shows us her range. The same can be said for the supporting cast, with standouts Arinzé Kene and Marsha Stephanie Blake acting as mesmerizing, steady anchors to Brosnahan’s Jean.
Bill Heck too makes the most of his brief appearance as Jean’s husband. In a matter of minutes, perhaps even seconds, we get the sense that this is a good guy, a loving guy and a bad guy. In other roles, Frankie Faison, Marceline Hugot, and James McMenamin are good too. On the whole, ‘I’m Your Woman’ is an unconventional crime drama that is equally thrilling and emotionally affecting without resorting to reductive tropes.
Directed – Julia Hart
Rated – R
Run Time – 120 minutes