Monday, May 20, 2024

‘I’m Your Woman’ Weaves a New Kind of Crime Drama

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Julia Hart has taken the genre of crime thrillers, specifically, those from the 70s, and rather than deconstruct or gender-bend it, has, with I’m Your Woman, fleshed it out to make it feel more complete. Women in crime thrillers are often sidelined or ignored. Their lot in films like these is usually to look on worried or anxious as their partners begin to inexorably spiral down into violence and pettiness.

Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) never asked for any of this. But she knew what she was getting into. Still, she never thought Eddie’s (Bill Heck) life of crime would ever really affect her. Aside from the nice clothes and lovely house.

But then Eddie comes home one day with a baby. One of the things Hart does in I’m Your Woman is to keep you guessing. We’re not sure if Jean is married to Eddie or if she is merely his girlfriend. We’re not sure if Jean wants a baby or if Eddie merely kidnapped one and thrust it upon her.

The script by Hart and her screenwriting partner and husband Jordan Horowitz moves at an exacting pace. Each scene feels as if it’s telling us a little more while also reminding us how little we know of what is going on. Hart and Horowitz eventually answer these questions because I’m Your Woman is not a mystery. It is about Jean’s slow realization about who she is.

One night Jean is told to go with Cal (Arinze Kene). Cal is a man who has come into Jean’s life abruptly. Something has gone wrong with one of Eddie’s jobs and she and the baby, Harry, must go on the run. Jean is uneasy both because she does not know Cal and because he is Black.

Most movies paying homage to movies in the 70s would ignore Cal’s Blackness. But Hart refuses to whitewash the genre. This becomes evident when Cal and Jean, after having pulled over to sleep for the night, are awakened by a cop.

To try and get rid of him she tells the officer that she and Cal are married. After a few more minutes of stalling, the officer leaves them with a warning. “I didn’t know I could lie like that,” Jean tells Cal.

Cal drops Jean off at a new house in a new neighborhood, with money, and a stocked fridge. Alone and with a baby she is not sure how to raise, Jean struggles to try and make peace with her new life. She is told not to talk to anyone but what about her chatty neighbor Evelyn played by the extraordinary Marceline Hugot.

Hugot and Brosnahan share a tense scene over dinner. Hart plays with us as we along with Jean, try and suss out who exactly Jean is. Is she a neighbor, or is she looking for Eddie?

For that matter where is Eddie? It is refreshing to see the lead gangster sidelined for once in favor of his moll. But what does Eddie do, is he a thief or a killer? Does Evelyn know Eddie?

The way Hart frames I’m Your Woman, part of the tension comes from the fact that we, like Jean, don’t know the whole story. We only know what she knows, she loves Eddie. Much of the film is learning bit by bit more about Eddie and his world which begins to affect Jean’s worldview.

About halfway through the film Hart and Horowitz introduce Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), Cal’s wife. A lesser movie would have had Cal been Jean’s guide into her newer, more fully realized self. But Hart and Horowitz gives Jean Teri, a woman who the more Jean gets to know, finds more in common with than she’s comfortable.

I’m Your Woman begins to reveal complex relationships between its characters, adding layers to each of their motives until finally, Jean realizes it’s not about her or Harry. It’s the life she’s chosen by being with Eddie, it’s about the family. 

Lensed by Bryce Fortner, along with the score by Aska Matsumiya, punctuated by the folksy R&B soundtrack, Hart makes I’m Your Woman look and feel like a pristine 70s joint. There’s a vibe about it that is both uniquely of the time but underneath it is Hart’s measured exactitude. 

With each movie Hart proves herself to be a cinematic voice to watch. I’m Your Woman is no exception. Aside from possessing a keen eye for visual storytelling, she can extract fully fleshed out performances from her actors. Brosnahan is terrific as a woman who is at once vulnerable and tired of being lied to and infantilized.

The script likewise allows Brosnahan’s Jean to work things out for herself. Hart allows moments in the film to simply watch her characters piece things together for themselves. We can see them thinking things out.

I love how Hart populates her worlds with recognizable faces. Hugot as Evelyn is both soft and inviting as well as suspicious and off-putting. She allows room for everyone to play complex characters. Even Art played by the wonderful Frankie Faison, a character who has maybe a handful of lines but makes each one count.

Faison and Brosnahan have a scene together in which Art shows her how to use a gun. The scene is indicative of the joy of watching I’m Your Woman. The two are walking together in the woods, Jean questioning Art, trying to find answers to what is going on with Eddie. Art holds out his hands and for a moment there is quiet and he very calmly says, “I’m about to take out a gun.” It then turns into a tutorial for Jean on how to handle a gun.

It’s a scene we’ve seen a hundred times before. But the way Hart and Fortner frame it feels like a scene we’re seeing for the first time. There is a sort of gentle urgency and plain matter of fact manner about the scene, that I found fascinating.

Brosnahan and Blake’s characters begin to grow closer and we begin to see a strange sort of friendship blossom. It is not an immediate friendship but by the end, it is a strong one. Blake’s Teri treats Jean with a confident exasperation. An attitude in which Jean finds somewhat insulting before she realizes Teri’s reasoning.

I’m Your Woman is made in the mold of a crime 70s crime film, right down to the folk-rock and R&B soundtrack. The drama unfurls in its idiosyncratic style with a delicate and exacting touch. Tense and lovely it is a movie about characters who are usually found on the sidelines in these types of films.

Image courtesy of Amazon Studios

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