I’m Your Woman review: An illuminating but flawed reversal of the macho mob movie

Julia Hart’s film pushes the camera off centre in order to expose the lives of mob wives and molls 

I'm Your Woman trailer

Dir: Julia Hart. Featuring: Rachel Brosnahan, Arinzé Kene, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Bill Heck, Frankie Faison, Marceline Hugot, James McMenamin. 15, 120 mins

Somewhere at the edge of the frame, on the outskirts of gangster movies, dwell the mob wives and molls. These women linger in doorways and in vestibules, with their worried looks and sky-high hair, either a cocktail or a baby in hand. They never move of their own accord, but are passed between men, as trinkets to be stolen, preserved, and disposed of.

This isn’t true of every crime drama (we’ll always have Karen Hill of Goodfellas, with her own voice and fire), but it’s a stubborn enough trope that director Julia Hart dedicated her latest, I’m Your Woman, to its reversal. Her film pushes the camera off centre in order to expose the lives of these liminal figures. It’s insightful and considered enough to act as a powerful rebuke to the male cinematic fantasy, though its flaws are as illuminating as its strengths.

We open on Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) laid out on a lawn chair in a fuschia, feather-trimmed robe – a perfect doll. She drinks, smokes, and blocks the world out with a pair of hexagonal sunglasses. But her clothes still have their tags attached, so she heads inside to cut them free, passing through rooms all coloured like lemon meringue pie. Production designer Gae Buckley and costume designer Natalie O’Brien not only lusciously invoke the Seventies, but provide a constant reminder of just how artificial Jean’s world has become.

Then her husband Eddie (Bill Heck, charismatic with a dangerous streak) arrives with yet another present: a baby. “It’s all worked out,” he tells her. “He’s our baby.” She doesn’t resist. When a man comes to her home in the dead of night and tells her to leave, entrusting her in the care of a total stranger (Arinzé Kene’s Cal), she doesn’t resist, either. She always knew her husband was a thief. Her only job was not to ask questions. Brosnahan, soft-voiced and sullen, here plays the tonal opposite of her motormouthed chancer on The Marvelous Mrs Maisel – a housewife of a very different breed. Her performance is striking largely in how unexpected it feels.

Teri (the magnetic Marsha Stephanie Blake), a Black woman who also married into the criminal life, firmly tells Jean: ‘Nothing’s worse for you’

I’m Your Woman follows the same route as Hart’s third feature, Fast Colour (2019), which served as an ingenious twist on the superhero genre. Both feature women on the run, slowly uncovering their own power. As the men cycle through the usual death and betrayal, somewhere offscreen, Jean is left to figure out her place in all this, with a baby at her side.

Hart and her co-writer and real-life partner Jordan Horowitz (a producer on La La Land) never skirt around the implicit privilege of their lead’s lifelong passivity. Jean and Cal are interrogated by a police officer, who can barely conceal his ire at seeing a white woman and a Black man travelling together. When she meets Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake, magnetic), a Black woman who also married into the criminal life, she’s told firmly: “Nothing’s worse for you.”

But, as focused as Hart may be on moulding her film into an empowerment tale, I’m Your Woman never quite knows what to do with all the days Jean spends stuck in domestic purgatory, waiting in safe houses for her husband’s return. It’s a joyless routine of laundry and TV dinners, an obligatory chore before Jean can have her moment of heroism. That feels easier than wrestling the ugly reality – freedom isn’t guaranteed, and no matter where she runs to, Jean may never be able to untangle herself from the lives of men. 

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