By Nadia Dalimonte
Rachel Brosnahan in I'm Your Woman (2020)
Julia Hart’s hypnotic new film, I’m Your Woman, brings a compelling character study to life in the 1970s world of crime. With an intriguing perspective and precise attention to detail, Hart explores themes of regaining identity and discovering newfound motherhood. The stylish opening sequence and simple recurring piano score lend sophisticated qualities to a story that stirs in moments of eerie stillness. Hart, who co-wrote and directed the film, gives each frame a beautifully controlled level of patience and care. I’m Your Woman adds a refreshing point of view to the crime boss genre and pairs Julia Hart’s directorial skill with a marvelous Rachel Brosnahan to craft a satisfying slow-burner.
The phone rings a lot in Eddie and Jean’s house. Off the hook, in fact. A smart little detail hints at the increasingly prying activity surrounding this household. We later learn Eddie (Bill Heck) lives a life of crime, but in his introduction, he’s a mysterious character who comes home one day holding a baby for Jean (Rachel Brosnahan). Without explanation, she now has a baby in her life, and she goes with it. To make matters more mysterious, one night Eddie doesn’t return home. Banging on the door startles Jean out of bed and ultimately, out of the life she knows. Handed big bags of cash and met with a man named Cal (Arinzé Kene), she’s suddenly starting over with a baby. Everyone’s looking for Eddie, and they’re looking for her too. Hart makes the refreshingly great choice not to delve into detail about who Eddie is, what he did, and why everyone is in danger. Instead, she stays with Jean every step of the way as the character is given a new home and is kept in the dark. The narrative focus on Jean gives the film an encompassing feeling that you’re on the journey with her, moving every inch with purpose and waiting every minute in stillness. In her newfound moments of quiet, she’s also coming to terms with newfound motherhood, and her instincts are swift.
The film moves slowly and surely with impeccable tension. The pacing evokes a constant fear that Jean will be found out at any given moment. Warned by Cal not to let anyone in (literally and figuratively), she lives in the shadows of ‘temporary home number one’ on a sleepy street, comforting her baby’s continuous cries through the night. It is at this home where the outside danger manifests in very different ways, starting with a seemingly well-meaning neighbour named Evelyn (Marceline Hugot), wanting to know who moved into her friends’ old place. The chill from seeing her calm, eager face appear at Jean’s front door in the dead of night is palpable, and her candygram visit takes an eerie turn when she asks where the restroom is. The direction and editing are particularly great in establishing moments of tense uncertainty. All of Jean’s suspicions are projected onto her surroundings, which creates an engaging experience of watching her encounters and keeping a closer eye on her settings.
As the film slow builds to ‘temporary home number two’ in the woods, the screenplay shines more light on Jean beyond the situation she’s in. Hart, who co-wrote the film with Jordan Horowitz, crafts an intriguing exploration of a character on a journey of self-discovery. The more Jean learns about Eddie and what could come next, the more empowered she feels to take matters into her own hands. Contrary to the title, she is not anyone’s woman but her own, and she proceeds to regain her sense of self. An unexpected visit from an unknown family of three at her new cabin presents some startling truths that prompt her to practice self-defense. The introduction of this family (Teri, Paul, and Art) raises the stakes up another level and gives a glimpse into the mess of a city they all left behind. Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake) in particular is an enormous highlight to the story. Her character adds a resonating layer that strikes a chord with Jean personally. With a newfound bond, the two pair up to take matters into their own hands when they sense something is wrong back in the city, where the story startlingly quickens the pace.
I’m Your Woman excels as a quietly gripping slow-burner with great performances, beautiful cinematography, and a pitch perfect 70s soundtrack. An emotionally gratifying conclusion recalls a great monologue from Rachel Brosnahan halfway through the film. She tells Cal how she burned all her personal desires until there was nothing left but the fire, and then Eddie walked in with a baby. What she stopped wanting was suddenly in front of her, and their linked journey is a big part of the film’s core which makes its conclusion an incredibly resonating one.