History passes. Times change and perspective keep culture and society as we know it, advancing onward. This fact makes the exploration of the classics, and more generally, period pieces, utterly fascinating. How does one tackle an examination of older works when so much of our contemporary climate is about developing and evolving? In her latest work, I’m Your Woman, director Julia Hart brings a refreshing, contemporary perspective on the crime thrillers of the 1970s. Here’s everything you need to know.
I’m Your Woman follows Jean (Rachel Brosnahan). She’s forced out of her bed one night with her adopted baby when her husband — who just so happens to be a thief– vanishes under a shroud of mysterious circumstances. The young mother finds herself on the run with no knowledge of where she’s going, or even why she has to run. Her only ally is a hitman, Cal (Arinzé Kene) and his wife, Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake). Julia Hart directs the movie from a script she co-wrote with Jordan Horowitz.
Hart and Horowitz bring an incredibly smart and studied take on the 1970s crime thriller with a very sophisticated purpose: to subvert the genre. Truthfully, I’m Your Woman starts where these older works stop. It tells the story of the often trodden-on woman in the protagonist’s life. In fact, fans of the genre will recognize a number of small moments directly calling back to classics of the era. However, it brings an added wink to the audience in the film’s subversion of traditional gender norms.
It’s a struggle to call out a single performance in I’m Your Woman. They’re all stunning. Rachel Brosnahan leads the cast and reaches new, and complicated ground with Jean as a character. She’s not a powerful, butt-kicking woman in the thriller vein. Yet, it is in this realism that is at the core of her strength. Women need to be represented as more than the damsels-in-distress or the Ripley-like titans. The ability for a woman to exist on-screen as a human being is vital to representation. Brosnahan brings Jean to the screen in all her exhaustion, her depression and her fear. But, like most of us, sometimes all you can do is hold it together.
At the same time, Arinzé Kene gives a contemplative performance as hitman Cal. In the grand scheme of the film, he doesn’t have a lot to do– most of his story occurs off-camera. However, Cal exists in the world to continue this subversion of standardized gender norms. In his portrayal, Kene presents Cal as a man who’s a good father. He’s good with Jean’s baby. He’s a solid husband and provider. None of these images of masculinity are particularly common in the often toxic masculinity of this era of cinema.
It is through Cal that I’m Your Woman also casts an unflinching eye on racial inequality. A police officer approaches them early in the film and Cal is immediately treated with suspicion and hostility, despite there being nothing “wrong” with what’s going on. The scene pulls no punches. While I’m Your Woman is very much an examination of gender, as a Black man, Cal’s word means less in the eyes of the law than that of Jean. It is a purposefully uncomfortable moment and it is tremendously successful in its execution.
Both Brosnahan’s take on Jean and Marsha Stephanie Blake as Teri carry much of the movie on their shoulders. These performances give voice to women and to mothers, exploring characters that are often ignored in the first century of Hollywood. It happens all too often that these stories were told off-camera while the narrative remains with the leading man. In crafting a story like this, and working with such dynamic actresses, Julia Hart succeeds in shifting the gaze. She shows that women’s stories are interesting, they matter, and they need to be told.
At the same time, there is a definite equity between the two women, who gel seamlessly on screen. Historically, it isn’t out of the ordinary to see stories like this rooted in trauma, or in finding a savior. I’m Your Woman doesn’t fall into this pattern. Instead, Jean and Teri both contribute to the narrative. They both bring something to their relationship, and in truth, make the other better. This partnership between these characters stands as an important one in the narrative, casting aside the usual weight of the romantic pairing.
Ultimately, the film’s biggest struggle is in the pacing. Some might find its thriller classification a bit of a stretch. In fact, I’m Your Woman could just as easily stand as a character drama. Jean spends most of the first and early second act alone with baby Harry. These moments of quiet interiority shine an unflinching light on Jean, allowing the audience deep into her soul, and showing just who she is. As a result, some of these scenes do feel a bit slow, that is until the action ratchets up midway into the second act. Thus, audience members who aren’t invested in these characters might find I’m Your Woman a bit long.
With I’m Your Woman, writer and director Julia Hart simultaneously pays tribute to the 1970s crime thriller, while still subverting and critiquing the genre’s traditional ideas of sex and gender. The movie is a well-crafted character exploration, with whip-smart performances, well worth it for not only fans of these actors, but those of the genre as well.
I’m Your Woman is currently making the festival circuit and will be hitting Amazon Prime on December 11th.