Synopsis: A woman is forced to go on the run with her baby after her husband betrays his partners in crime.
Stars: Rachel Brosnahan, Arinzé Kene, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Bill Heck, Frankie Faison, Marceline Hugot, James McMenamin
Director: Julia Hart
Running Length: 120 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Not that you’d have much sympathy for their luxe paychecks and high profile lifestyles, but it must be difficult for an actor to go from having a respectably decent career to becoming a sizable star nearly overnight. We see it happen all the time now with the advent of streaming shows that release entire seasons of shows at once, often with casts of fresh faces that start a Friday as an unknown and come in Monday morning as the hottest topic over the company water cooler. Even though actress Rachel Brosnahan had already amassed a nice tenure of television appearances under her belt, working with the likes of David Fincher (House of Cards) and Woody Allen (A Crisis in Six Scenes), it must have felt like a whirlwind when the tweed tornado that became The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel swept her up.
Originally premiering in early 2017 as part of Amazon’s old model of showing a handful of pilots, letting the consumers dictate which ones they liked, and then giving full series orders to the most popular choices, I remember watching this quirky show and appreciating it’s tommy-gun dialogue and loving its handsomely recreated period production design. Other viewers did too, evidently, because by the end of that year the first of the three produced seasons had premiered to critical and audience acclaim. The show was a hit and so was the cast, rocketing Brosnahan to multiple award wins and keeping her quite busy for the ensuing years. Both a blessing and a curse, she’s now closely associated with her do-it-all, know-it-all character from Mrs. Maisel and in I’m Your Woman, her first true solo-led feature since her star-making role on the streaming screen, she’s playing another wife in a different decade…but one in a situation far more dire than her television alter ego.
The backyard of a modest home in Pittsburgh in the 1970s is where we first see Jean (Brosnahan) sunbathing in the middle of the day. A housewife that can barely keep house or cook, her husband Eddie (Bill Heck) doesn’t seem to mind much, mostly because he’s preoccupied with shady business dealings that Jean is mostly oblivious to but occasionally just pleads ignorance on. Despite multiple attempts to get pregnant, Jean can’t carry a child to term and she’s only just resigned herself to not being a mother when Eddie walks in the door with a baby boy that is now theirs. Too happy to ask the kind of questions she should in this situation, Jean welcomes the baby with open arms and begins the motherly tasks she thinks she should perform, making breakfast for her child and husband (even though she can’t cook), and taking the baby to the playground (even though he’s still an infant).
A knock in the middle of the night changes Jean’s suburban peace forever. Eddie has disappeared and his business partners can’t find him. For her own safety, she needs to leave town under the escort of Cal (Arinzé Kene, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) another friend of her husband’s who seems to be one of the only ones that doesn’t want to harm her for information on his whereabouts. Trusting him to keep her safe, she sets off and it’s the beginning of a journey for Jean, her baby, and eventually Cal’s family in the bonds of loyalty and security during a time when America was at war and crime was running rampant in many large cities. While we never know what exactly Eddie was neck deep in, it’s clearly bad stuff because based on the lengths we see certain parties go to get to Jean, they feel that pressing her will elicit the necessary response from him.
Directed by Julia Hart from a script she co-wrote with her husband, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz (remember him? He’s the guy that announced “There’s a mistake, Moonlight, you won best picture” on the Oscar telecast), this is a full-bodied crime drama that will remind anyone worth their salt of the kind of picture John Cassavetes would have lensed back in the day. You can easily see some ‘70s star taking her performance of Jean right to an Oscar nomination and not for nothing, Brosnahan’s performance is top-notch throughout. Watching her change from a reserved kept wife to a more assertive mum on the run is a rich endeavor and she never forecasts what’s coming next. Watching the fear rise in her eyes when trying to locate an unresponsive visitor in her house is chillingly real.
It’s not just Brosnahan that’s memorable in I’m Your Woman, which is why the performance feels slightly off-kilter at times comparead to others. Showing up rather far into the movie, I’m not going to tell you who Marsha Stephanie Blake (Luce) is playing, not because it’s a huge spoiler (it’s not, really) but because her arrival bears some significance in Jean’s personal growth into a stronger individual. Blake is an actress that continues to gain solid traction in the Hollywood machine and I couldn’t be happier. Again in this film she demonstrates how to convey a range of deep emotions through the smallest of adjustments in voice or facial expression. That’s the theater training she’s had right there on display. As Jean’s watchman, Kene is equally impressive as someone that gives as good as he gets. You get the sense he doesn’t care for Eddie and before he met Jean made up his mind he didn’t like her either…so it takes a while for him to divest his image he originally had of her from the woman she actually is. As usual, the gregarious Frankie Faison (The Silence of the Lambs) is a warm presence and he nabs a fine scene with Brosnahan and a gun that has a nifty little punch to it.
Hart manages to instill fine moments of suspense throughout the film, a surprising amount actually. I had thought the movie would be less crime and more drama but it’s actually the opposite. The performances are first rate and it’s clear Brosnahan is made for more than a world that revolves only around Maisel. What’s also on display in I’m Your Woman is a calling card of sorts for the writer/director, one that shows an attention to knowing the difference between homage and mere replication and creation of a charged atmosphere when necessary without altering the overall temperature of the film in the process. Hart also has a knack with finding the right cast as well, from the leads to the supporting characters; it’s pretty perfect all around. If there’s one thing I’d give you some advice on, try not to watch this with headphones on. Jean’s baby is a fussy one and cries for much of the film and the wails started to get to me after listening to them through the headphones I have connected to my TV for late night watches. Aside from the noise complaint, I’d keep your eye on (and out!) for this one.