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Review: 'I'm Your Woman' Explores Female Agency

by Megan Kearns
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Dec 4, 2020
Rachel Brosnahan in 'I'm Your Woman'
Rachel Brosnahan in 'I'm Your Woman'  

Crime films often revolve around male characters. When we do see women-led crime films ("Hustlers," "Widows"), they typically focus on women committing crimes. But "I'm Your Woman" diverges, showing how men's crimes impact their spouses while centering women's perspectives. It's a catalyst to explore female agency, infertility, grief, child loss, and motherhood.

Directed and co-written by Julia Hart and co-written by Jordan Horowitz, "I'm Your Woman" stars Rachel Brosnahan (who also produced) as Jean, who's married to a thief in a crime ring. When he double crosses his colleague and goes missing, Jean is forced to go on the run with their baby.

Set in the 1970s, the film opens with Jean's narration about how she and Eddie (Bill Heck) fell in love and planned on having a child, but don't. Looking glamorous in her sultry robe, and with her perfectly coiffed hair, Jean sits alone in the backyard. The camera pans out and up, highlighting her loneliness. Early in the film, Eddie arrives home holding a baby, whom he gives to Jean. On the couch, Jean anxiously holds the baby at arm's length. A delicate piano score starts as she eventually holds the baby close, bouncing him gently.

In the middle of the night, one of Eddie's associates awakens Jean. He grabs clothes and cash from a closet, instructing her she must leave immediately with the baby. Cal (Arinzé Kene), another one of Eddie's associates, drives Jean and baby Harry to a motel. They develop an interesting rapport as he protects her and the baby.

There are numerous tense scenes. Jean wakes Cal, as Harry has a fever. In a hospital waiting room, Cal sees a cop car pull up outside. It's taut as Jean and Cal, holding Harry, slowly walk out, passing cops. It's a brilliantly restrained scene filled with palpable dread. In another scene, Jean and Cal awaken to a cop knocking on the car window. The white cop asks Jean if Cal, who's a Black man, is bothering her. He makes Cal exit the car. Hart wisely makes a commentary on racial profiling and police brutality. Jean calmly lies, saying Cal is her husband and they were driving to their new house. After the cop drives away, she says, "I didn't know that I could lie like that." When Cal brings Jean and Harry to a new house, he informs her not to talk to anyone. Yet, the tension resumes as we don't know if Evelyn, a persistently chatty neighbor, can be trusted. When Jean puts Harry down to sleep, she descends the stairs and stops. The front door is open. Hearing rummaging in the kitchen, Jean sneaks out of the house with Harry. The film captures how Jean is constantly looking over her shoulder, forever on guard.

Striking colors punctuate the film. Jean wears a purple robe against yellow patio furniture. In another scene, Jean wears a teal robe as she sits on a gold yellow bedspread with pink floral wallpaper and a phone in the same shade of salmon pink. It's a meticulously curated film in its costuming, sets, and art design.

Cal eventually brings Jean to a cabin in the woods. As she waits for word from Cal, she's unexpectedly met with visitors: Cal's wife Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), their son Paul, and his father Art (Frankie Faison).

These two women, Jean and Teri, are bound together by their husbands' criminality. The film shows how a criminal lifestyle impacts women from their perspectives. Jean says Eddie kept a lot from her. Teri says, "That's what they do." As they wait in a hotel room, there's a dissolve from Jean to Teri, their nebulous faces next to each other, visually indicating they both exist in the same tenuous position. The film also retains its female focus with its soundtrack filled with women singers.

In the first half of the film, Jean — despite her protestations — is told what to do and where to go, exerting very little agency. But that slowly shifts. In one scene, Jean throws eggs against the kitchen wall out of anger and frustration. I don't blame her; she's thrust into a situation she didn't choose. Eggs were the meal she cooked for Eddie; they also symbolize fertility. Jean eventually declares what she wants, her future goals, and takes decisive measures.

Throughout the film, Jean seems unsure with the baby; she's not sure how to soothe Harry or what to do. Cal often calms Harry when he cries. At a disco nightclub, waiting for Teri to obtain information, Jean caresses one of Harry's tiny knit socks, like a talisman. It's a callback to earlier scenes, including a tender scene of Jean putting a booty on Harry's foot, the diegetic lullaby of a music box playing. Jean slowly grows more confident about her maternal skills.

We witness Jean grapple with her infertility and the pain and grief of child loss. In a heartbreaking scene, Jean reveals to Cal her infertility. She says they "couldn't adopt because of Eddie's record." She shares that after she couldn't have children, she stopped wanting one. She told herself it's for the best, as a baby shouldn't be raised in this life. "But I really did want it. More than anything." She utters that sentence in hushed tones, almost like a prayer. "I just had to keep living, you know. So I burned it all up. I burned it up till there was nothing left but the fire. And then in walked Eddie with a baby." This scene resides solely in the power of the smart script and Rachel Brosnahan's wonderful performance.

Just as Julia Hart brought a unique women-centric take on the superhero genre with the fantastic "Fast Color," she does the same here. With great performances, good cinematography and pacing, and a well-written screenplay, "I'm Your Woman" looks at the crime genre through a woman-centric lens.

"I'm Your Woman" premieres Dec. 11 on Amazon Prime.

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