Women in gritty, 1970s-era crime dramas are generally defined by the illegal activities of their husbands/boyfriends. They’re often either knowingly complicit in the crimes the man commits (if not doing the crimes themselves), or afraid and unwilling to stand up to him. It’s rare that a story occupies a middle ground between those two sides, something that I’m Your Woman does quite well.
Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) is married to Eddie (Bill Heck), a criminal whose activity is ill-defined for much of the film. What we do know is that, at the beginning of the film, he brings Jean a baby of unknown origin, and disappears almost immediately afterward. Cal (Arinzé Kene), an associate of Eddie’s, soon arrives to help Jean go into hiding, as Eddie’s disappearance has put both her and the baby in danger.
The rest of the film is spent with her on the run, never sure to know who to trust, even Cal since she just met him. She’s also learning to be a mother on the fly, dealing with a series of new revelations about Eddie, and trying to become a self-sufficient person for the first time in her life.
What writer/director Julia Hart (with help from co-writer Jordan Horowitz) makes clear from the beginning is that Jean is not your typical damsel in distress. She’s never hysterical or unable to handle challenges thrown at her, but neither is she a steely, take-charge kind of person. Her demeanor lies somewhere in the middle, willing to accept the things she cannot change but always on the hunt for answers to her questions.
Centering the film on the criminal’s wife and a henchman is an unusual move that pays dividends. Those are both the type of characters that are usually only in a few scenes or just pop up in the background. But Hart and Horowitz give both of them rich stories that become much more interesting than whatever is happening in the criminal underworld that remains a threat for most of the film.
Hart and her team set the scene and tone well without ever getting into clichés or stereotypes. From the sets to the costumes to the music, they strike a nice balance, putting the audience in the frame of mind necessary for this type of film while also offering something new. It’s unusual for a ‘70s-set movie to feel fresh, but that goal is accomplished here.
Brosnahan has been dynamite as the lead in Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but this is the first time she’s been given a plum movie role like this, and she knocks it out of the park. Kene has had bit parts in movies like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and How to Build a Girl, but his performance here should guarantee many more lead roles in the future. Also of note: The twins Jameson and Justin Charles combine to make one extremely cute baby, something that shouldn’t matter but enhances the movie notably whenever their character is on screen.
I’m Your Woman is a surprise of a film, one that would normally get lost amid myriad other crime movies, but something that stands out thanks to its solid storytelling and two great performances (three if you count the babies). Attention to detail matters, and everyone involved should be commended for their work.
I'm Your Woman will open in limited theaters and debut on Amazon Prime Video on December 11.