Julia Hart’s 1970s-set I’m Your Woman flips the switch on the male-focussed crime dramas of the past by putting the criminals’ wives in the spotlight, making the film a feminist-noir at its core.
Hart doesn’t waste any time setting up the main story. Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) is a naïve, childless suburban housewife until one day, her husband Eddie (Bill Heck) brings home a baby, declaring it “ours”. It’s clear Eddie isn’t exactly a good guy, but what he does with his time and his associates is anyone’s guess, especially Jean’s. When Eddie doesn’t return home one evening, Jean is awakened by one of his partners, ushered out the door—stacks of hidden cash in hand and the baby in tow—and told to do whatever Cal (Arinze Kene) says.
On the lam from an unidentified threat, Cal offers Jean some semblance of protection as she wrestles with her newfound independence. Her life is in danger but from who and what is a mystery as she pleads ignorance to Eddie’s actions and whereabouts. All of this transpires within the first few minutes of the film’s opening credits, giving the unconventional story plenty of time to reveal itself and subvert the genre. The twist here is that the film isn’t about Eddie and his criminal activities, but about Jean and Cal’s wife, Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake).
Jean and Teri are at the centre of not just a female friendship or bonding story about women with no-good husbands, but a shoot ‘em up crime drama. The women are armed and ready to take action.
The strength of the film is not just in the unpredictable nature of I’m Your Woman’s plot but in Brosnahan and Blake’s performances. Pulled from the margins of the genre, these characters (and the actors portraying them) stand out as they go to great lengths to protect their families. This could be a tired twist but with Hart and her co-writer/husband Jordan Horowitz at the helm, it’s a refreshingly feminist take that also explores questions of identity and race through Jean’s interactions with Teri and Cal. The sheltered housewife is faced with her privilege in one particularly tense moment when she and Cal are pulled over by a police officer who questions what a woman like her would be doing out with a Black man and a baby in tow.
As great as Brosnahan and Blake are, the real standout of I’m Your Woman is the 1970s aesthetic. Deep browns, oranges, patterned wallpaper and yellow-hued lighting all permeate the interiors. The warm and earthy tone of the costumes and rustic shearling-lined plaid overcoats are enough to single-handedly bring the decade’s style back. And then there’s Jean’s sequin jumpsuit and fuchsia marabou-trimmed robe that are the stuff of fashionable dreams.
Cal’s most important and repeated piece of advice in the film is “don’t look back”, but looking back to the ‘70s and twisting the male-focused past is what makes I’m Your Woman so compelling and unexpected.
I’m Your Woman arrives on Amazon Prime Video on Dec. 11.