Movie Review: I'm Your Woman (2020)

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Swanky, immaculate, and impractical, "I'm Your Woman" opens in the luxe '70s Pennsylvania home afforded to Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) by her husband's life of crime. Also given to Jean within the first five minutes of the movie is a new baby that her man Eddie (Bill Heck) delivers like a jumpsuit, string of pearls, or new stereo that might have fallen off the back of a truck in his vicinity over the years.

The only difference between this and the typical swag that the veteran thief brings home is that this property is not only hot but it's also a living and breathing thing and as such, it looks immediately out of place in this cold, catalog ready environment.

Sensing his wife's hesitation, Eddie promises Jean that it's all worked out. "He's our baby," he explains but then changes his wording later on. He's "your baby," Eddie says, correcting himself in a line of dialogue that's as much an important distinction as it is an eerie piece of foreshadowing for the film.

You see, mere moments after he says this, Eddie disappears from Jean's life. And no, that's not a spoiler, it's merely the set-up for this engaging piece of storytelling from "Miss Stevens" and "Fast Color" director Julia Hart, who wrote the film along with her husband, producer Jordan Horowitz. 

A clever reinvention of '70s cinematic crime fiction, in "I'm Your Woman," Jean gains a baby and loses a husband, the first when one arrives home unexpectedly and the second when the other does not. Thus, one man or – to be more precise – one "he" replaces the other in Jean's life and our leading lady goes from being the woman and the whole world for one to the woman and the whole world for another when Eddie fails to return home following a job gone disastrously wrong.

What went wrong on the job remains a mystery for the better part of the movie but it's only interesting from a tangential perspective because it happens offscreen. Serving not as the movie's climax the way that most heists are utilized in crime movies centered on male protagonists, "Woman" is instead concerned with how one man's actions and decisions affect the woman at its core and the baby she's left to protect.

"Something happened tonight," one of Eddie's partners tells her and, handing her a bag with two hundred grand in it and instructions to take the kid and go with a man named Cal (Arinzé Kene), we discern that that is all we need to know. Rather than stay with the crooks and either go to the mattresses or Sicily with the men eluding capture as we did in "The Godfather," Hart and Horowitz instead opt to follow Diane Keaton's Kay instead, or rather, their Kay in the form of Jean.

A light flutter of wind you initially ignore until it builds into a tornado that no one – not even the weatherman sees coming – Jean goes from a meek, decorative glass figurine living in her husband's dollhouse to a frazzled yet determined woman trying to find and hold onto any semblance of control she has in her new, now suddenly uncertain life. Who Jean is, as not Eddie's woman but her own (and now baby Harry's as well) is the crux of Hart's picture. And in a messy, initially submissive turn that's light-years away from her performance on "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," gifted producer-star Brosnahan is there, fully committed to exploring Jean's compelling evolution every step of the way, even when she occasionally but realistically goes backwards instead of forwards. 

Thrillingly original and long overdue, particularly for women (like yours truly) who, long obsessed with '70s crime movies, didn't realize just how much they wanted and needed a film focused on the characters that far too often get left behind in traditional white-male-centric fare, one of the wisest decisions that Hart made was not to simply turn Michael into Missy Corleone. Avoiding the pitfalls of over-correction that we sometimes see in revisionist genre efforts where, rather than accurately reflect the true setting and history of the period of the movie, filmmakers will just make the hero a woman instead of a man, Hart opts to embrace rather than escape femininity here. 

Jean isn't a crackerjack thief or a hitman, she is a crime syndicate wife who's never been on her own before and has no idea how to begin to move on, even temporarily, without a man. In addition to Harry, who is bringing out a new protective side in her, she gets a second man for a time in another figure that would ordinarily be a supporting character as well in the form of scene-stealer Kene's enigmatic Cal.

A Black former associate of Eddie's who he'd entrusted to look after Jean and the baby until either he, Cal, or Jean can figure something out, as a new stranger turned friend, he's at once a calming influence on both Jean and Harry and an armed guard you don't want to cross to everyone else. Yet Cal doesn't only serve to save Jean, even if this is his initial function at the beginning. As the film progresses, Jean finds that he might need to be saved right back. To do that, she'll need to join forces with another woman – Cal's woman, Terry (a masterful Marsha Stephanie Blake) – and one who, if Jean is being honest, is exactly the kind of woman she's always wanted to be herself.

Sharp, unfussy, character-driven filmmaking that has much more in common with the methodical, building block-based storytelling we so often saw in the 1970s as opposed to most modern movies where people frequently speak in expositional monologues, this is a film that tells us only what we need to know at any given moment. Respecting not only our intelligence but also the talents of the actors bringing their characters to life, Hart knows that we will come to better understand the people who populate her film in time. Therefore, she has no interest in giving us a cinematic version of Cliff's Notes to tell us what to think and refreshingly asks us to sit back, get lost in her world, and figure it all out for ourselves instead. 

Suspenseful and unpredictable in the way that it leads us down one path only to veer wildly down another moments later, "Woman" leads to a few truly exciting action set-pieces over the course of its running time. A unique hybrid of '70s and modern filmmaking with a lead character who feels like a descendant of Gena Rowlands in "Gloria," "I'm Your Woman" is first and foremost a celebration of genre storytelling.

One of those mid-range adult thrillers that – as the old adage goes – they just don't make that much anymore since normally, it would be broken down into six half-stuffed episodes of lukewarm prestige television instead of a feature film, "I'm Your Woman" plays best to those who understand its cinematic lineage. 

Wearing its influences like "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," "The Getaway," and other films from the era proudly in each frame, "I'm Your Woman" feels like a '70s movie released in 2020... if, you know, they actually made crime movies in the '70s that focused on what happens to the wives and girlfriends of a crook instead of just relegating them to the sidelines. The end result is a rousing film that plays like gangbusters. With first-rate production specs, including a dynamic soundtrack and crisp yet lived in cinematography from "Ingrid Goes West" DP Bryce Fortner, following this year's "Sound of Metal," "Small Axe" releases, "Vast of Night," and "Blow the Man Down," "I'm Your Woman" is proof that some of cinema's strongest new films are found on Amazon Prime. 

Immediately pulling us into Jean's orbit, we watch as she goes from being defined by one man to asking herself just what kind of woman she wants to be both for herself and her child now that she's been left out in the cold. Finding strength she didn't know she had, in a film about people left behind, we meet a woman who at long last, knows her worth. 

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