Review by Catherine Callahan
Our protagonist, Jean, dons oversized sunglasses, a floor-length fuchsia robe, and dangles her cigarette languidly. Within our first glimpse of Amazon Prime’s newest release, I’m Your Woman (2020), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017-) star Rachel Brosnahan replaces “Midge” Maisel’s ‘60s charm with that of a sullen ‘70s bombshell. The camera cranes backwards, Brosnahan’s voiceover begins, and we are presented with Jean’s housewifely angst: a cynical boy-meets-girl story that drops us in a loveless and childless marriage. The aesthetic and thematic promise this opening shows declines steadily as the plodding, slow-burn storyline tries to inspire our sympathy for Jean, yet is creative in revamping the ‘70s crime drama through a female lens.
When Jean’s mobster husband Eddie (Bill Heck) betrays his partners, she is sent on the run with her baby- a baby suspiciously adopted by her husband some time before. Carted around by her husband’s former associate, Cal (Arinzé Kene), Jean deals with the sometimes-overwhelming trauma of abandoning her life, all while maintaining an astonishing level of awkwardness with the infant. Brosnahan’s portrayal is nuanced, and the uncertainty in this bond is humanising, showing a struggle with expectations of motherhood even as she is ripped from the domestic sphere. This relationship with her son conjures interesting thematic developments as both her maternal and survivalist personas grow. It could have been a very poignant piece on motherhood, if not for multiple instances of long, unnecessary montages of her chores and detachment from the child which do little to further the ultimate maternal arc.
Jean also grows to understand her privilege as she takes refuge with Cal’s black family. She sets out into the vibrant, gritty city with Cal’s wife (Marsha Stephanie Blake), giving the viewer a much-needed disco fix. Yet even as they face death-defying situations, the tension is often fabricated by music rather than by compelling storytelling. However, twisting the classic ‘70s pulp crime tale into one with feminist and racial elements is an intriguing and commendable undertaking, even if it leaves much to be desired.
The big standout of the film is its eye-catching cinematography and color grading. Each scene recalls the warmth of ‘70s film with yellow highlights, grounded with a steady stream of brilliant blues. Neon signs glow bright pink against Rachel Brosnahan’s face and wardrobe, reminding us that her command of the screen and eclectic clothing might be the only other saving grace of the film.
Ultimately, the film’s lack of editing and excess of small scenes undercuts the very relevant and creative themes it explores in warping the traditional male crime genre. Perhaps though, the newness it brings to the classic trope will lead to better composed storylines, although they can keep the empowering female strut through disco lights.