As we learn at the start of I’M YOUR WOMAN, Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) is living a life of comfort, security, and irritating tedium in 1970s suburbia. Ensconced in a mid-century classic in an affluent neighborhood, she is quietly smoking as she goes over where her life when wrong, as in not having children with her loving husband, Eddie (Bill Heck), when she notices the still-attached price tag on her effulgent pink robe. Her frustration over not being able to find the scissors gives way to stunned surprise when Eddie arrives home with a baby for her. She can even, he tells her, name it whatever she wants.
Life should be now perfect, but the tedium persists, and then there’s Eddie’s business, which is not above board, a fact that will shortly pluck Jean out of life as she’s known it. A stranger named Cal (Arinzé Kene) arrives unannounced along with one of Eddie’s associates, and together they remove her from the premises without giving her time to pack. Neither of them knows where Eddie is, nor will they tell her why everyone is looking for her and the baby. Soon Jean discovers that what she knew everything about her husband’s criminal career was only the beginning. Worse she learns what it’s like to be on her own for the first time in her life as Cal sets her up in less luxurious a safe house with strict instructions not to call anyone she knows, not to talk to anyone, and to keep the door locked.
Filmmaker Julia Hart externalizes Jean’s journey with great aplomb. The ennui of Jean’s existence is established with a pointed sound design that makes the crack of an egg into a frying pan the essence of emptiness, and the sight of another broken yolk the symbol of hopelessness. A motherly neighbor (Marceline Hugot) with a casserole and concern over how tired Jean looks becomes suspicious not for her behavior, which is unimpeachable, but because of Jean’s circumstances alone in a strange house. The enigmatic Cal, with his unsmoked cigarette in hand, and his way with babies, is a cipher, thanks to Kene’s perfectly calculated blank slate. He’s trustworthy only because there is no alternative. He’s vaguely menacing for what he’s not saying, and for his frequent, unexplained, disappearances. Hart frames it all in formally composed shots that overwhelm the characters with their oppressive geometric precision, and that pervasive 70s shade of orange.
The general air of uncertainty is palpable; that of the suspense necessary to maintain the tension is less successful, with a pacing that is erratic. Still Rachel Brosnahan is the reason to see I’M YOUR WOMAN. No wisecracking, ironic Mrs. Maisel here. In a performance that is as powerfully beguiling as it is quiet, she goes from passively discontented to an active agent in her own salvation, Brosnahan builds gradually on Jean’s heretofore untapped inner resourcefulness, allowing the character not just to survive, but actually to thrive once life becomes life-and-death. When Jean announces to another character that she is going along to investigate where Cal has gone, it’s not the volume that is stirring, it’s the tone Brosnahan employs, which is not an enormous departure from her regular one, but is delivered with a force and a curtness that is. It’s also the point where the film itself becomes deliberately less passive. The kinetic energy Jean has eschewed until now enlivening both protagonist and story as it builds to a thundering conclusion.
I’M YOUR WOMAN is full of the requisite twists, turns, and spinning moral compasses. It is gritty yet elegant, and takes film noir into its own genre, femme noir.