I Am Hannah, the third instalment in Dominic Savages’ I Am… trilogy, follows the story of a woman in her mid thirties, who is struggling to know where her life is going. In an attempt to find Mr. Right, she uses a dating app with a number of unsuccessful results. With pressure from her mother to find a husband and start a family, Hannah becomes more and more depressed and angry at the expectations thrust upon her.
Initially it appears that I Am Hannah replicates the same technique that was used in the previoustwo episodes. But the inclusion of a flash forward at the start of the programme is turned on its head this time round. Its a nice little touch that shows that Savage is both referencing his own style while subverting the expectations, and producing something a little different.
The episode deals with many different issues that face not just Hannah (Gemma Chan) but many thirty-something-year-old women globally. On her various dates we see a lot of it from her perspective, as she interacts with a variety of men. While she clicks with one or two of her dates, most of the men she encounters have ulterior motives. These aren’t always necessarily sinister, but it is clear that the men she dates have specific agendas. Either they are shockingly abrasive in their expectations or just simply get the wrong end of the stick. This causes Hannah to retreat further inside herself and become more internally conflicted and confused.
There is a sense that Hannah is slowly spiraling out of control and certain triggers such as seeing children set this off in particular. Gemma Chan manages to effectively balance moments of raw emotion with that of numb detachment. She doesn’t go too far either way, which would come across as a little over the top and contrived. Instead Chan demonstrates the fine line Hannah walks between feeling everything and at other times nothing.
The camerawork reinforces this frenetic tone with many of the shots having a shaky, hand-held quality to them. This works both to the advantage and disadvantage of the episode. On the one hand it is a little frustrating to watch, as its overly wobbly approach makes trying to focus on the subject of the scenes hard work. However, as the episode and story unfolds it serves to complement the character’s state of mind. There are some really effective shots where Hannah is overcome by emotion while walking down the street, and the camera effectively conveys that with its slight but constant wobble.
The London setting doesn’t merely serve as a backdrop, but also plays a part in highlighting the isolation Hannah experiences. There is a juxtaposition in the fact that she is surrounded all the time by people but feels totally cut off and alone. This is because London can feel very cold and unfriendly both due to its grey, drab surroundings and the slightly hostile people that inhabit it. It certainly can come across as a city of strangers and nameless faces, and I Am Hannah captures that to a certain extent.
I Am Hannah seems to have more characters than the previous two episodes, and their inclusion is explored in a unique way. The way they interact with Hannah through the things they say and the expressions they make convey a great deal. Some feel compassion, others concern and a few disapproval. This further adds fuel to the fact that Hannah feels inadequate and like she is constantly under the magnifying glass. Chan provides her own range of facial reactions and responses and in the one to one exchanges, it feels very much like Hannah is deeply studying a person while simultaneously being studied herself.
Having said that, Hannah is definitely the driving force of the episode, and Chan gives a strong and believable performance throughout. She co-wrote the story with Savage and it’s evident she feels deeply invested and aligned with the character she is portraying. It is interesting how Hannah does quite a lot of observing and listening, particularly during her dates. This causes the men opposite her to open up about themselves. But when confronted with friends and families, it is Hannah who voices her thoughts and feelings instead. It is a clever bit of acting as this is extremely accurate when applied to real people. The idea of never expressing yourself until you are forced to by familiar faces.
The solution she eventually finds to hopefully solve her problem makes sense, although it does feel somewhat guided by her overbearing mother. It is heart-breaking when a certain discovery comes to light, derailing her plans. At the same time it demonstrates that perhaps Hannah wasn’t really doing things for the right reasons. Fear, expectation and loneliness seem to influence her decisions and that is part of the overall problem she faces. There is a sense of empowerment when Hannah finally realises that the only way to overcome her problems is to deal with them herself. It goes against everything other people have advised, but that is sort of the point.
It probably has the most open-ended conclusion of all three episodes: like the flash-forward, this gives the third entry a more defined and unique style. The whole trilogy is really about women overcoming their trials and tribulations. They are also about taking big risks in order to escape their trapped lives. But I Am Hannah is less defined than the others. It is a realisation more than a resolution and that serves for a powerful ending. The episode hits the nail on the head in exploring the challenges modern day women in their thirties face. By not wrapping it up in a tidy conclusion it gives the subject matter more bite and the viewer is certainly left with a lot to think about.
I Am Hannah is a fitting finale to a powerful trilogy of stories. It manages to retain elements that are trademark of its predecessors, while introducing some new styles to shake up the formula.
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