In the wide world of gangster thrillers, there’s almost nothing new under the sun. We know every trope and motif by heart, and can trace the character arc of a Liotta or DeNiro with our eyes closed. The only new territory to explore is a different perspective. I’m Your Woman occupies the same narrative space as the gangster films we’ve all seen before, but in focusing on the experience of the wife of a criminal rather than the criminal himself, it breathes new life into the genre. With confident, sure-footed directing by Julia Hart and a career-redefining performance from Rachel Brosnahan, I’m Your Woman carves out a space for itself that is refreshing and unapologetically female.
Jean (Brosnahan) has a life that revolves entirely around her husband Eddie, who is a high-level mobster. When we first meet her, she’s just sort of listlessly waiting for him to come home. What does she even do while he’s gone? Is she a fully formed human in her own right, or does she only properly exist the second he walks through the door? It’s a knowing response to the traditional gangster film, where the man goes off and lives his rich internal life, while his wife languishes at home until she can be of use as either a mother to his children, an outlet for his sexual needs, a loyal punching bag for him to work out rage and inadequacy issues, or some combination of the three.
I’m Your Woman flips the script. Because one day, Eddie doesn’t come home, and his colleague frantically tells her that she’s in danger and will need to skip town, lie low for a while. So she is forced into motion, taking off in the middle of the night with just a bag full of cash and the recently adopted son she is fiercely protective of yet feels deeply unqualified to parent. She may have begun I’m Your Woman as just Eddie’s wife, but she’s on her own now.
In a way, it almost feels like a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern situation. We can imagine so clearly what most versions of this film would consider the A plot, where our mobster antihero gets himself into a pickle and sends away his lady love while he cleans up the mess. What his wife was doing in the interim hardly merits a second thought. But what’s delightful about I’m Your Woman is how supremely unconcerned it is with the plight of Eddie. This is Jean’s story, not Eddie’s, and we’re focused entirely on her reclamation of agency and how she unlearns being nothing more than a mobster’s wife. “Eddie wouldn’t even let me drive the car,” she comments at one point, and it’s clear that his minimisation of her abilities has allowed self-doubt to creep into her psyche. She has let him define what she is capable of for too long.
Brosnahan’s performance as Jean is understated, as she lets a lot of her emotions boil beneath the surface. Especially early on in the film, she feels purposefully muted, as though Jean is suppressing the majority of her thoughts and feelings. She’s pliable and apathetic, perfectly willing to let things happen to her. When her husband brings home a baby boy out of the blue and tells her, “he’s our son,” she utters not a murmur of objection, even though it’s clear that after her struggles with infertility, having motherhood thrust upon her all of sudden is difficult to process. She’s completely dependent on the men who surround her, from Jimmy, the man who helps her escape, to Cal, who is tasked with protecting her whole on the run. Her dynamic with Cal (Arinzé Kene) is especially interesting, because he sees her as more capable even than she does, and is constantly expecting her to be able to manage on her own, despite her protestations.
I’m Your Woman feels light and well-paced during the scenes where they’re teamed up together — they have an easy chemistry, and Cal clearly brings out the best in Jean. But it’s perhaps at its most compelling when Jean is forced to be alone. Over the course of the film, the confidence and wherewithal she conjures from deep within herself is incredibly compelling. It feels almost like her journey in I’m Your Woman is a representation of the thinly-written female supporting character we’ve come to expect from these types of genres, who has to learn how to become the protagonist of her own story. With this additional layer, Julia Hart succeeds in taking a well-worn genre and making it feel entirely new.
I’m Your Woman is available on Amazon Prime from 11 December 2020.