AFI FEST REVIEW: ‘I’m Your Woman’ (2020) is a Thrilling Kind of Empowerment

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“A heart-pounding tale of determination with intense character development.”

Inevitably, life won’t go according to plan. Sometimes we enjoy our comfort bubble a little bit too much and we’re afraid of having to step outside and face the unknown. However, when the time comes to engage with a problem that we’ve never seen coming, it’s up to each of us how we deal with it. In I’m Your Woman, Julia Hart poignantly explores the possibilities that come with that situation: do we learn to adapt, or do we fall into a pit of denial and let life swallow us whole?

Soaking up the sun in the backyard of her luxurious home, Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) narrates her own introduction. Wrapped in a glamorous fur jacket, she tells of her husband Eddie’s precarious profession as a thief (Bill Heck), her infertility, and their lost hope for ever having a child. However, it’s not hard to see that she pretends to adore such a lavish lifestyle, indicated by her highly apathetic voice and barely existing facial expression. 

What she doesn’t know is her life about to take a turn for the worse when one day, Eddie suddenly comes home bringing a baby in his hands. In a brilliant gesture to provoke us into wanting more, Eddie simply says, “It’s all worked out,” without further elaboration, and Jean doesn’t even question him over the baby. However, the very next day, Eddie goes missing. One of his associates comes to their home, frantically telling Jean her life is in danger and she has to run away because her husband messed up a robbery. Left with no room to ask for details, she could only follow the associate’s instruction to go with Cal (Arinzé Kene), Eddie’s former business partner, who’s put in charge of her and the baby’s safety. With the scene happening so fast yet agonizing, this is where we start to taste the heart-pounding thrill and lingering uneasiness that Hart is after.

They then travel to seek a hideout and, after a brief skirmish with malevolent strangers looking for Eddie along the way, they end up in Cal’s cabin located in the middle of nowhere. Jean continues to press Cal for an explanation concerning the husband’s condition, but he’s also in the dark. Amid the distressing challenges with her life at stake, Jean still has a budding relationship with the baby, whom she names Harry, to keep her sane. The more she interacts with Harry and learns about his mysterious background, she gradually acquires motherly instinct which will prove to be important in triggering her desire to survive. 

The film demands some patience as Hart utilizes a relatively slow approach in constructing its prime conflict, taking almost half the film to spread the mysteries and add more fuel to Jean’s raging frustration. However, the payoff is worth it; it’s hard to imagine a better way to allow the viewers a complete grasp on what’s causing Jean to evolve in the end. It’s very fulfilling to see Jean’s character develop as the circumstances squeeze her from every direction, thanks to Hart’s immersive storytelling that compels us to closely witness and comprehend the occurring events from the lead’s perspective.

A blonde woman sitting alone on a bench at a park with a baby stroller right beside her.
Image courtesy of Amazon Studios

The movie truly begins its redemption arc once Jean finally meets Cal’s wife, Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake). Not only is she someone that Jean can resonate with, but she provides the slight push that Jean needs to break the limit of her mind sanctuary. Their kinship is essential in stimulating the confidence in Jean — mainly because she views Teri as a braver, more experienced version of herself. And it’s clear to what extent Jean looks up to Teri when she willfully follows her to find Cal, who later disappears as well, even if it means they have to go to a dangerous place. Given the on-screen time they have together, their chemistry is as gripping as it could get.

As Jean, Brosnahan exhibits one of the most potent lead performances in 2020. Her acting brilliantly matches the plot’s course, vague at the start and slowly becoming more vigorous with more elements being implemented to the story. It’s hard to initially recognize her character’s gravitas, just like the film itself that wants to keep the audience guessing. But once it steps on the gas, Brosnahan delights with an eruption of emotions and unrelenting presence. Every time she decays, you’ll feel her vulnerability crawling under your skin. Every other time she displays firm intention, it never seems artificial.

I’m Your Woman is a unique entry in Hart’s filmography, demonstrating more dimensions to her directing style. Despite the visible lack of vividness from her previous works, she manages to showcase her ability to tackle a darker, more twisted theme while attempting to deliver a strong message at the same time. Hart pries your curiosity and makes you aware of the threat lurking around Jean, but she smartly renders it impossible for the viewers to predict what’s coming and when. Though she has a tendency to be overeager in dispersing unanswered questions marks, it doesn’t take away the overall excitement of the film.

With things considered, I’m Your Woman is an almost perfect example of how to convey engaging female empowerment through audiovisual work. Entertaining, powerful, and not preaching what it wants to say right in your face, it acts as a billet-doux for the women out there striving to make a stand in this cruel world and those who are not giving in to the every so often disheartening reality.

Director: Julia Hart

Producers: Rachel Brosnahan, Jordan Horowitz

Cast: Rachel Brosnahan, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Arinzé Kene, Bill Heck

Release Date: December 11, 2020 (Prime Video)

Header image courtesy of AFI Fest