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Culture » Film Reviews

Guns & Booties

I'm Your Woman wraps a story of motherhood into a crime thriller.

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AMAZON STUDIOS
  • Amazon Studios
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Genre cinema is a terrific camouflage. With many (if not most) conventional dramas, there's never any confusion from the outset as to what the story is about, or what kind of character journey we'll be observing. Maybe it's a love story, or maybe it's an addiction narrative, or any of a hundred other possibilities, but it's right in front of you. Things get more complicated if you wrap a tale of grief up in a supernatural horror film like The Babadook, or if you wrestle with the power of mythologized storytelling in a Western like Unforgiven. It's almost impossible to feel like you're being fed a message if a filmmaker is skilled at hiding the fact that there's even a message coming.

Director Julia Hart proved herself particularly skilled at that sleight-of-hand with 2018's Fast Color, taking what was nominally a superhero origin story and crafting it into a tale of divided families, and people of color being "othered" as threatening during a time of crisis. With I'm Your Woman, Hart and her co-writer/spouse/collaborator Jordan Horowitz take a run-for-your-life crime thriller and transform it into a surprisingly effective portrait of coming to terms with motherhood.

Rachel Brosnahan stars as Jean—wife of a professional criminal Eddie (Bill Heck)—who spends her days alone in their house, with voice-over narration noting that they'd been unable to have a child. Then one day, Eddie brings home a baby with a cryptic remark that "it's all been taken care of." And just as Jean is trying to settle into the realities of caring for a child, her world is further turned upside down when one of Eddie's associates bursts in to tell her that Eddie is running for his life, and that her own life is also in danger unless she takes on the lam with the baby that she has named Harry.

Much of the first act finds Jean trying to understand what is happening while her driver, Cal (Arinzé Kene), tries to find her a safe place. Brosnahan plays her early scenes in a reactive state, waiting for instructions from others while simultaneously trying to figure out how to calm a crying baby. It's low-key character drama for much of that time, but it's also a perfect set-up for where Hart is going.

And where Hart is going is turning the stakes for a new mom that often feel like life-or-death into an actual life-or-death scenario. Much of Jean's arc is built around her fears that she's made a terrible mistake bringing a child into a world she knows is dangerous, exacerbating her fears that she's not up to the task of parenting. Repeatedly she finds herself comparing herself to others she thinks are doing better—observing Cal's gift for settling Harry down with a finger in the baby's mouth, or complimenting food prepared by others with a resigned, "I'm a terrible cook." By the time I'm Your Woman creeps towards its violent climax, it becomes a tale of developing the confidence to know that you can do what has to be done, because as a parent, you have no choice.

That violent climax is only part of where Hart shows that she's just as savvy at handling the actual genre components as she is at subverting them. More of that content is built on simmering tension than it is on actual gunplay, as in a scene where Jean and Cal have taken Harry to the hospital, and paranoia mounts that they might be recognized. Yet Hart also delivers the goods when it comes down to something as fundamental as a car chase, or focusing on Jean's attempt to hide from a shootout at a disco.

That aforementioned scene is also one of the few places where I'm Your Woman gets more overt about the fact that this story is set in the 1970s, which makes it a unique setting for exploring women's anxieties over motherhood. Hart and Horowitz are less successful at incorporating issues of race—a disappointing surprise, considering how deftly they handled the subject in Fast Color—touching on "if you think you've got it tough" notions they're not really prepared to follow through on. They've got a much firmer grip on Jean's journey toward confidence, captured in a story where she can have a baby booty in one coat pocket, and a gun in the other.