By Shwetha Surendran
BU News Service
If there ever was any question about which modern-day actress truly belongs in and captures the essence of a period-piece, the answer is quite simple – Rachel Brosnahan.
And only further strengthening this argument is her remarkable performance as Jean, a 1970’s suburban housewife, in Director Julia Hart’s new Amazon Prime thriller, “I’m Your Woman.”
A far cry from her iconic role as Midge Maisel in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Brosnahan trades the perfectly-coiffed hair, bespoke wardrobe, and infectious energy for a palette of dull browns and mustard yellows of a lonely housewife. Despite a chasm of difference between Jean and her previous character profiles, Hart casts Broshnahan in a similar role of a woman stuck in a man’s world, hoping to breathe fresh life into an old male-centered crime genre.
Although marketed as a thriller, the plot of “I’m Your Woman” does not have the usual edge-of-your-seat, popcorn-almost-in-your-mouth suspense that is a hallmark of the trope. Instead, it’s a slow burner.
Set in the 1970s, it follows Jean, who’s surrendered to her role as the duteous wife of a criminal. The film’s opening minutes sees her in a swanky purple number and gold-rimmed brown sunglasses, cutting a lone figure in their large house. And then walks in Eddie (Bill Heck), her husband with a baby.
No, not their baby. Just a baby.
Handing it over to his visible-dazed wife, he calmly remarks that it’s all been taken care of and that the baby is hers now. There are no questions asked; there are no answers given.
This pattern of leaving both Jean and the audience in the dark continues into the film even as she’s forced to go on the run with baby Harry in tow. Adding to the uncertainty is the introduction of Cal (Arinzé Kene), a mysterious hitman who’s ferrying them to safety.
One might expect the film’s pace to pick up with all the ‘on-the-run’ anxiousness, but Hart keeps it simmering evenly. Left alone in a safe house with strict rules not to go out or interact, much like reality today, Jean breaks every cardinal rule of staying on the down-low. She walks around the neighborhood, chats with her elderly––oddly suspicious-looking––neighbor, and even invites her in for dinner. You get tantalizing close to wanting to reach through the screen and shake Jean by her shoulders.
But Jean is apathetic. Operating on one end of the emotional spectrum, she leaves the crying to her baby. Occasional bursts of emotion, such as when she flings eggs against the wall in frustration, yells at Cal or has a moment in a laundromat, are exceptions in an otherwise passive facial display.
While much of the movie’s dialogue is left unspoken with long pauses of silence, Hart sprinkles in witty little character quirks that speak volumes instead. Cal puffs on an unlit cigarette, Jean can’t cook eggs, and baby Harry’s favorite lullaby is Jean’s Aretha Franklin inspired rendition of ‘A Natural Woman.’
Adding a richness to the story is cinematographer Bryce Fortner’s neatly composed camera shots, aided by soft transitions and gorgeously color-graded wallpapers.
And in a plot that firmly places Jean as its linchpin, the introduction of Cal’s wife Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), his father Art (Frankie Faison), and son Paul (De’Mauri Parks) is a refreshing turn of events. The developing female Bonnie and Clyde-esque partnership between Teri and Jean results in some of the film’s best action scenes.
It also has to be said that Jean’s sequined gold jumpsuit paired with a voluminous fur coat from one of their shots together fully deserves its mention. But despite an attempt to add more nuance to their growing relationship, the bond Hart presents doesn’t pack the oomph that it should.
Hart scripts this film as an ode to the often overlooked –– the partners, wives, children, and families –– side of the gun-slinging, gold chain adorning mobster. Any answers about the mobster himself are wholly left out. Who is Eddie? Where is he? What did he do? The only consolation is that Jean doesn’t know either.
If “I’m Your Woman” was an ice-cream, it would be a Cornetto ice-cream cone. The little bit of frozen milk chocolate at the end of the cone is reason enough to labor through the ice-cream layers.
Similarly, “I’m Your Woman” promises its audience a dramatic plot with its slow build-up. But when it does, and you finally reach the chocolate, it tastes great, but it’s much too late and much too little.