Julia Hart, the emerging indie filmmaker of “Miss Stevens” and “The Keeping Room” crafts her most mainstream movie to date with “I’m Your Woman,” a taut crime thriller that blends character study and feminist commentary that attempts to deconstruct the crime thriller genre with some uneven and mixed results. What the film has going for it though is its polished direction, strong performances, some solid pacing, and genre-driven sensibilities that should appeal to wider audiences which should become widely seen during the holiday season as it just received it’s platform release on Prime by Amazon Studios.
“I’m Your Woman” is a type of genre film that’s goal is to transcend genre by defying genre trappings and routine sensibilities. At its heart, it attempts to be a character study and bears to mind John Cassavetes’s 1980 crime-thriller masterpiece “Gloria,” and even Quentin Tarantino’s overlooked 1997 masterpiece “Jackie Brown,” except it doesn’t feel as wise or as mature because Cassavetes and Tarantino brought a more complex and curiosity to the character depth of their female protagonists in peril than Evans does here.
Which is ironic considering those films were directed by men, where Evans is a woman except the character doesn’t quite reach the fleshed out efforts that were more in display more in those auteurs works. Both the characters of Gloria (Gena Rowlands) and Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) in Cassavetes and Tarantino’s’ self-named titles were given more dimension, pull, and nuance where Julia Evan’s protagonist of Jean (played extremely well by Rachel Brosnahan) serves more as a stand-in it’s attempt to strip down all the masculine traits of the crime genre, that is replaced more with a female gaze that comes off more half-baked than triumphant.
It’s not to say Brosnahan isn’t given any emotional layers or beats, she is given many emotional moments with some sharp exchanges and vulnerabilities at work, however, the characterization remains one-note throughout most of the movie where she is left mostly passive and susceptible where she shows some slight amount of courage towards the end that becomes obvious with foreshadowing earlier in the film.
Hart will receive a lot of notoriety for this film in just how rare it is for females to appear in crime movies, even “Gloria” and “Jackie Brown” still maintained the genre traits at hand, where Evan’s strips down the rawness that feels like it’s made from a distance. While certainly well-directed with some rich period detail, the film almost feels a little too synesthetic and meticulous for its own good. While it’s commendable that Evan’s has made a generic crime movie in the vein of Tarantino and the Coens, even if Evan’s shows thematic and visual influence of the Coen’s and even David Fincher, the film plays out like a few lost episodes of the TV series of “Fargo.”
Though grounded in a common American setting, in its saturated tone and idealistic intent, “I’m Your Woman” approximates itself as a crime thriller, it has all the mechanics of one. It is noir-ish, at times darkly comedic, and as stated above Brosnahan is given some emotional weight and some poignant moments, as it unfolds with mystery and intrigue.
The film begins with Jean (Borsnahang) relaxing on a lawn chair sporting a robe and sunglasses. It’s clearly the 70s as she lives a comfortable lifestyle surrounded by synthetic and glossy décor that shows how artificially manufactured the world is around her. Her husband Eddie (Bill Heck) arrives home with a surprise gift of a baby named Harry. He informs her “He’s our baby,” as it becomes apparent Jean and Eddie aren’t capable of having their own children. It is left muddled and unclear how he got a baby, but it doesn’t take long for chaos to unleash once Jean is awakened one night from one of Eddie’s associates named Cal (Arinze Kene), as he suddenly bursts into Jean’s home and frantically informs Jean to grab her belongings, retreat from her home, and not ask any questions.
The film from there sets itself up as a crime thriller, about a woman on the run who attempts to uncover the answers of the world she has been confined to. Jean is left fending for herself while grappling for answers and how she fits in to all of this, while having a baby on her side that she instantly loves. While on the road, Jean isn’t given many answers by Cal, and they pull over for some sleep where they are harassed by a cop the next morning who can’t bear the fact of a white woman in the same car with a black man. They eventually find their way to a suburban safe house that’s in the outskirts of a rustbelt city that resembles Cincinnati or Pittsburgh.
While being a lousy cook who can’t even cook her own eggs and burns toast, it becomes clear that Jean can’t fend well for herself. She eventually encounters a nosy neighbor to the safe house, who pries herself briefly into Jean’s life and “home” which doesn’t take long for Eddie’s goons to bust in interrupting their dinner asking for his whereabouts. Luckily Cal comes in at the right time that involves Cal and Jean back on the road again, which leads them to a cabin in a remote area where Cal eventually encounters his wife Teri, (Marsha Stephanie Blake) their son Paul (De’Maui Parks) and Cal’s father Art (Frankie Faison) who ends up training Jean how to hold and shoot a gun, foreshadowing that becomes apparent. Cal goes off again, and the film plays out like an episode of “Fargo” as Jean’s impatience intensifies as she yearns for questions.
The tale’s third chapter wrestles itself back into familiar crime genre trappings that go awry and unravels with chaos, mayhem, and violence. It’s in these sequences that “I’m Your Woman” echoes Scorsese, Tarantino, and the Coen brothers. The bloody aftermath at a nightclub, which is set in the cold Midwest, recalls “Fargo.” Other parts of the story echo elements of “Blood Simple,” which is also about a woman on the run from a criminal. These comparisons are not meant to suggest “I’m Your Woman” is a derivative work, but rather a reminder that Evan’s plays around the framework of the tradition of the crime movie. This sequence is also greatly staged and maintains some nail-biting suspense as Jean hides inside a telephone booth as people run away from the gunmen.
In the third act, which ends with some relief and an emotionally satisfying conclusion, with Jean’s life on the line, she must figure out how to empower herself and grow stronger in which she has been trapped in emotional limbo since her dizzying journey. Just when you think “I’m Your Woman” relinquishes itself as a generic crime thriller, Evan goes back to her original scheme by reinventing the genre by attempting to add a new layer to it.
On the surface, the movie becomes more of an emotional thriller, one that could have dived just a little more deeper. While the motifs of eggs are apparent, which in the context of the film, they are stone cold on the outside, yet inside they nurture young life, and Harry becomes a reflection of what Jean needs–to transcend herself and nurture not only Harry, but herself if she wants to grow stronger. Ideas like this bring surface to the film that anchors the film from misfiring on all levels. While flawed with it’s shortcomings and not entirely successful on all levels, “I’m Your Woman” is still thrilling enough to sustain itself as a satisfying crime movie with a fresh perspective.