** (out of ****)
Co-screenwriters Julia Hart (who also directed) and Jordan Horowitz are faced with a unique challenge in I’m Your Woman. The plot follows a woman who goes on the run, along with her child and an acquaintance, to escape the sins committed by her corrupt criminal of a husband. Curiously, there are two halves of a story being told here, but only one of those halves is being told onscreen.
Nearly everything with the husband is offscreen, with the exception of glimpses of the aftermath of what followed in his wave of destruction and deception. There is, then, a fascinating genre experiment being performed here, too. Hart and Horowitz have stripped this crime thriller of what we expect to see and shifted focus upon the villain’s hapless and clueless wife.
One day, Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) and Eddie (Bill Heck) are on the back end of having spent several years trying to become parents (either naturally or through adoption), and the next, Eddie has come home with a baby in tow. He offers no answers regarding whose child it is, but Jean doesn’t ask.
Soon, Eddie, who was involved in a major criminal organization, has disappeared after betraying and killing the organization’s boss, prompting Cal (Arinzé Kene), an associate of Eddie’s, to activate a plan to hide Jean and her child. The plan takes her to a safe house, where a nosy neighbor mucks things up, and ultimately to Cal’s family home, where his wife Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake) and father Art (Frankie Faison) reveal surprising connections to Eddie.
This is, until an inevitably violent climax in which all the conflicts come to an explosive head, the extent of the plot and of our understanding what drives that plot in the background. Jean isn’t a static character, thankfully, but her journey here is entirely predictable, moving from helpless, passive observer to headstrong, active participant with as much inevitability as the arrival of that violent climax.
Brosnahan’s performance essentially carries the whole of the film on its back, and it’s initially surprising how calm, how reserved, and how deeply considered it is in the actress’s every choice. In every way possible, Brosnahan is the movie, and it’s quite an effective and complex portrayal of fear, betrayal, and loss of innocence.
In other, crucial ways, though, the film does not hold up. The experiment, while intriguing, is merely one of genre and expectation. We expect to be led to the inevitable violence of the climax by way of a byzantine plot, complicated and complex characters, and double-crosses and revelations of a different sort. What we receive is quite different, more character-driven, more ambitious, and ultimately less satisfying as an experiment: Hart and Horowitz seem more focused on the fact of their subversion of expectations than with thinking of ways to take advantage of that promise.
I’m Your Woman still moves forward in the ways we expect, with predictable twists and a broad protagonist. It just shifts the perspective by 90 degrees.
Review by Joel Copling