With rare exceptions like Jane Fonda in Klute (1971) and Elaine May’s Mikey and Nicky (1976), the crime movies of the 1970s are almost entirely the domain of men, both in front of and behind the camera, Sure, women are often present — on the periphery, demonstrating what the men have to lose for their life of perpetrating crimes or fighting them — but they’re never driving the film forward. However, Julia Hart’s I’m Your Woman Julia Hart’s latest is a refreshing take on the throwback ‘70s crime picture, as seen through new and refreshing perspectives.
In almost any ‘70s crime thriller (and frankly even most 21st-century ones), the men are our focus. We glimpse their personal lives, but their wives and families often exist to humanize them. If we see these supporting characters apart from the protagonists, they’re usually wringing their hands with worry over their husbands and fathers, or they’re in danger themselves to add additional dramatic heft to the lead’s arc, while they lack one of their own. By contrast, in the ‘70s-set I’m Your Woman, Rachel Brosnahan appears in every scene as Jean, truly evolving from who she is when we first meet her: a passive character who doesn’t even drive (but does look pretty amazing in a marabou-trimmed fuchsia dressing gown).
Jean exists adjacent to a life of crime, with little knowledge of what her husband, Eddie (Bill Heck), actually does for a living. Her life with a new baby is a quiet one (other than the child’s cries), but she is awakened in the middle of the night and forced to go on the run after something goes wrong for Eddie. The mysterious Cal (Arinzé Kene) helps get her settled in a safe house, but the danger continues to follow her and her baby.
Brosnahan’s Jean isn’t the only atypical character to have her story told in I’m Your Woman; Kene’s Cal and other Black characters played by Marsha Stephanie Blake and Frankie Faison challenge the often-segregated world of the genre. The threats against Jean’s life necessitate isolation, but her interactions with Kene, Blake, and Faison add warmth and depth to the film and offer tender scenes in the harsh world on screen. I’m Your Woman smartly avoids the issues of its predecessors, though; these are real people, who exist beyond just their connection to Jean.
Brosnahan demonstrates that she’s just as good with the necessarily quiet Jean as she is with her chatty lead role in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The broad strokes of these plots might seem similar — a stay-at-home mom grows in the absence of her husband — but Brosnahan does dramatically different work here that evolves along with Jean. As Cal, Kene feels like a star in the making, and not only because costume designer Natalie O’Brien gives him the best cinematic knitwear since Chris Evans in 2019’s Knives Out.
It’s not just the sweaters; each element in O’Brien’s clothing and Gae Buckley’s production design establishes the ‘70s setting down to the smallest detail. It all feels authentic, but it’s also largely gorgeous — especially the coats worn by Brosnahan and Blake — though the wood paneling can stay in decades past.
The script from Hart and her writing partner/husband Jordan Horowitz raises some questions it doesn’t answer, and not everything makes sense. Jean’s actions are often illogical, but she’s so clearly out of her element that it’s excusable that she’s not thinking logically. As collaborators, their work is at its most interesting when it plays with genre conventions, particularly in 2018’s Fast Color and its unconventional take on the superhero movie. However, they also excel in adding specificity: tiny moments and bits of dialogue that build out this world and these people.
In another film, Jean, Cal, and those at the heart of I’m Your Woman would simply be a liability or collateral damage, but Hart’s movie rightly elevates them. She proves that these stories are worth telling — and worth watching.
“I’m Your Woman” streams Friday on Amazon Prime Video.