Julia Hart’s I’m Your Woman is a crime drama that builds its narrative around a character that is usually on the periphery of things, the wife of a crime boss.
Rachel Brosnahan plays Jean, a woman married to man who is pretty much a gangster, and as his wife, Eddie (Bill Heck) keeps her out of the criminal aspects of his life. She is there for him to play out the domestic dance with, and Hart makes it clear from the start how Jean lacks agency of her own. She wears what he wants her to wear, does what he tells her to do, and upon arriving home one day with a baby in hand, she is simply told to become a mother, no questions asked.
As Jean struggles to raise the baby, she suddenly finds her life upended when she is told by Eddie’s associates that she needs to flee their home, if not, she will most certainly be killed. Jean has no choice but to do what they say, and it is frustrating for us to see how her questions remain unanswered, and the impatience she is dealt with. Unlike Steve McQueen’s Widows, where the women take their husbands’ places in the space of crime, I’m Your Woman doesn’t really go there, because that is not Jean’s world. Her world is an isolated one, where she is married to a man she could never properly know, and now she is on the run with no one to trust.
We spend many a quiet moment with Jean in the safe house, as she stares deeply at the wallpapers of the house, almost like she’s waiting for a woman to crawl out from it. Instead of peaceful, it feels overwhelmingly lonely, and yes, she does have the baby, and that assuages things a little, but the baby is not a peer or a partner.
On her journey, she meets couple Cal (Arinze Kene) and Terri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), and it becomes obvious that they exist as foils to Jean and Eddie. Unlike Jean, Terri has agency, and she knows everything there is to know about Cal, bearing no qualms about heading into criminal territory to ask the questions she needs to. But Jean has questions of her own, and she becomes determined to get things moving so that she can get her life back. Hart makes her journey a realistic one, since she doesn’t become a gun-toting gangster wife herself. She does get a training stint with a gun though, and if we have learnt anything from Chekhov, we know a gun introduced must become of use later on, and it is to the film’s detriment that we are expecting this moment to happen.
When violence erupts, the rest do their best to keep Jean away from it, and Jean herself communicates the shock and fear of the inexperienced, wanting out of these spaces of bloodshed, but recognising that she needs to confront it if she wants to claim her life back. So yes, it is a fascinating character piece, and Brosnahan makes Jean so nuanced and relatable. Be warned though, we are following a character who doesn’t have teeth in the crime game, so there are a lot of moments where nothing happens, with Hart using the mood and atmosphere to give us a sense of Jean’s interior.
I’m Your Woman subverts all that we know about the crime genre, painting the terrain with a distinctly feminine style, where a woman regains her agency and power – we could use more of such narratives.
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Julia Hart's expert direction allows a look into Jean's interior, as we watch her empty life become full and rewarding.
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