I’m Your Woman starts with a series of wham-bam events that prompt the question: “what is that all about?”
A man arrives home and gives his wife a baby she’s clearly never seen before in a “there you are, get on with it” kind of way.
In the next scene, a gang of men all arrive at the house that Eddie (Bill Heck) shares with Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) + new unexplained baby. Who are they?
Eddie suddenly goes missing. Why?
A guy called Cal (Arinzé Kene) turns up, gives Jean a big bag of money and spirits her (+ new unexplained baby) off to a hideout.
We have no idea what’s going on and neither the screenplay nor direction nor the look on Jean’s face are giving us any clues. However, director Julia Hart is laying on the pregnant silences, and the spare soundtrack (by ASKA) is clanking away guiltily here and there, suggesting there is something rattling in Jean’s closet. Jean – the way she accepts the baby, her husband’s disappearance, Cal, the money, the relocation, all with barely a murmur – is the biggest unanswered question of all.
Further strange, unsettling, even murderous events start happening around Jean and she seems to be at the mercy of them all. The woman as passive agent. Cal turns up again and evacuates Jean from what was meant to be a new life in a quiet neighbourhood but which all went bloodily bad. She ends up rehomed in a cabin in the woods. Then Cal’s wife (Marsha Stephanie Blake), father (Frankie Faison) and son (Da’mauri Parks) turn up and things start to unravel… and explain themselves at the same time.
Jean cannot cook, not even a fried egg, she cannot have children and now her husband’s run off. She looks like a depressed woman and behaves like she’s carrying a burden of failure.
As it becomes clearer that Jean’s Eddie was in fact a very bad man, I’m Your Woman’s dynamics start to shift from mystery thriller to chase thriller, and along the way Jean stops being Your Woman (ie a gangster’s moll) and becomes Her Own Woman, albeit one who’s running for her life.
Though she’s barely paused for breath since she started working in 2009, Brosnahan is probably best known for being the star of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, a series set in a kind of Mad Men 1960s. We’re in the 1970s in I’m Your Woman, Brosnahan’s centre-parted lank hair and denim flares a match for the stoner lassitude that characterised the era. Neither director Hart nor Brosnahan seems quite as obsessive about capturing the era as Maisel, but it’s not necessary. This isn’t really about the 1970s, it’s about a woman finding her way.
Men don’t fare that well, coming across for the most part as seedy, stupid and impulsive whenever we catch a proper glimpse of them, which is rare. But I’m Your Woman is at its best while its mysteries are still mysteries, its characters in the shade, while we’re leaning in to try and find out what’s going on, rather than sitting back to see how things are going to turn out. The unanswered is the source of this unusual film’s power.
How Jean escapes from her husband’s shadow and from the men who are following her – and whether she does – is the stuff of spoilers. What can be said without ruining things too much is that it’s a rousing, bloody and satisfying finale and compensates a touch for the sense of things having wound down, paradoxically, as obscurity has given way to action.
Jean’s journey is from being an extra in someone else’s play to being the star in her own. From judging herself as a failed woman to being the judge of other, mostly useless, men.
And as Jean establishes herself as a person in her own right, discovers her own code to live by, this film ends, in a way that’s ever so faintly reminiscent of a movie from the early 1970s, Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, which also didn’t so much end as just grind. to. a. halt.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021