The crime thriller I’m Your Woman takes its time to get going. That may frustrate some viewers, since it is entirely from the point of a view of a character who almost never understands what befalls her. Director Julia Hart, along with frequent collaborator Jordan Horowitz, constructed the film so that it is a rebuke of countless crime thrillers audiences have seen over the years. Think about all the times that a wife or girlfriend was kidnapped by the bad guys, and given zero information about what is happening to them. Nothing could be more disorienting and cruel, right? This film uses that perspective as a jumping off point, and shrewdly critiques the genre along the way.
Rachel Brosnahan plays Jean, a bored housewife with little to do. She has no children, and she does not ask too many questions about her husband’s job (she knows he is a criminal). When he shows up with a baby boy one day, she is more hostile than welcoming, although she does grow some affection for him. A shocking development kicks her motherly instincts into high gear: her husband’s underling breaks into the house, tells her she is in danger, hands her a bag full of cash, and tells her to follow a strange man to safety. The rest of the film observes Jean as she transitions from a demure victim into a woman with real resolve. She even shares the some of the same canny instincts as the hardened, violent men who threaten her.
The script, co-written by Hart and Horowitz, requires a lot of Brosnahan’s performance. Jean starts off as someone who is naïve and disinterested: she goes through the motions of motherhood, and her terror is a direct reflection of her upended routine. She gets an assist from Arinzé Kene, the man who helps Jean most directly. His name is Cal, and his eyes betrays a growing unease he dare not share. It is to Hart and Kene’s credit that Cal can develop through understatement. He is also the conduit for some important secondary characters, who help reshape how Jean defines her responsibilities.
Race is an important subtext throughout I’m Your Woman. Like Hart’s last film, the superhero fantasy Fast Color, she uses tropes at their fringes to show how the canon has left people of color behind. Sure, Jean is a white woman, but Hart shrewdly makes her unaware of her own privilege. Cal is black, and so are many of the people who support Jean (community is the only way to keep everyone afloat). There is a pointed scene where Jean protests to a black woman that she cannot understand her struggle, and the black woman flatly replies she has had it worse. Jean is not a bad woman, just an ignorant one, and part of the film’s charm is how she realizes that her husband/identity denied her things that are crucial to her survival.
If you are patient enough for the first half, the second half includes more traditional suspense. Jean and others find themselves in one deadly situation after another: it is kind of amazing how Hart depicts shoot-outs and car chases so they are necessary to the plot, not obligatory. She gets an assist from Pittsburgh, a city that still has imposing cityscapes thanks to its rust belt architecture and labyrinthine system of bridges. None of these action scenes have top-tier production values, but Hart is able to depict chaotic situations carefully, so there is logic to the final outcome.
Intentionally or not, Hart stands as a Hollywood outsider. She wants to make genre films, and absent the traditional support she needs, must find resources through other means. One pleasant consequence of her status is the rebellious nature of her work. I’m Your Woman shares some thematic detail with Widows, an admittedly superior woman-focused crime film, except it comes with less political subtext and an arthouse pedigree. Like Jean, Hart is left with no choice but to show her detractors who she really is. Others may doubt her gifts, at least until the final scenes, then they will see a true filmmaker who could be on the verge of greatness – she just needs to seize the right opportunity. No one else will.
I’m Your Woman is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.