The all-virtual edition of AFI Fest 2020 kicked off in spectacular fashion Thursday evening with I’m Your Woman, a gritty 70s-era crime thriller from director Julia Hart (Miss Stevens) about the wife of a professional thief who goes on the run when her husband’s latest job ends in chaos. Scripted with partner Jordan Horowitz, Hart’s latest effort is her best work yet, a slow-burn study in suspense with a meticulously plotted narrative, peppered with memorable performances.
Disillusioned housewife Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) spends her days sipping wine and ruminating on the life she had hoped for, where she and Eddie (Bill Heck) would start a family together. For reasons we won’t discover until much later, the latter part never happened — and then one day, Eddie shows up with a baby. “Our baby,” he tells Jean. “It’s all worked out.” Long accustomed to her husband returning home with unusual gifts, Jean doesn’t ask questions: she just throws herself headlong into motherhood. The future starts looking pretty rosy, until Jean is awoken in the middle of the night by one of her husband’s associates, brandishing a pistol and instructing her to grab the child. “Something happened tonight,” he tells her. “We have to go.”
Carrying nothing but the infant and a gym bag stuffed with $200,000 in cash, Jean is ushered outside to meet a mysterious stranger named Cal (Arinzé Kene). “I’m how you and the baby stay safe,” he explains, spiriting her away to a nondescript home in a quiet neighborhood, and laying down the ground rules for survival: don’t leave the house, don’t talk to anyone. But after years of turning a blind eye to her husband’s criminal activities, Jean doesn’t seem to have a true appreciation for the danger in which she’s suddenly become mired, and the rules are broken with tragic consequences that send Jean and Cal fleeing the city in favor of a ramshackle farmhouse, miles from civilization.
Accompanied by Cal’s kindly father (Frankie Faison) and unflappable wife Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), Jean gradually starts to piece together everything that Eddie’s been hiding over the years. Clearly having been down this path before, Teri offers equal doses of empathy and pragmatism, encouraging Jean to steel herself for the road ahead — but even she’s surprised when Jean demands to accompany Teri into the city to chase down a lead after Cal goes missing. From neon-lit nightclubs to crumbling hotels to rundown roadside diners, Hart crafts this underworld journey into an anxiety-laced odyssey, accentuated by bursts of bloody violence.
That most of this violence occurs out of frame is a bold choice, but ultimately quite effective, particularly during a sequence where a shootout erupts during a high stakes card game in the back room of a crowded disco. As screaming bellbottom-clad patrons scatter in every direction, Jean crams herself into a phone booth and waits for an opportunity to escape, and the camera stays with her as she stumbles and crawls through the bodies littering the dance floor. We can feel the confusion, the disorientation as Jean tries to make sense of the cacophony happening all around her, and Brosnahan sells it wonderfully.
A Golden Globe winner for her role in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Brosnahan takes full advantage of the opportunity to showcase her range here, and the work is miles removed from the fictional stand-up comedienne with which many viewers will no doubt be familiar. Jean may begin the film as a fearful, panic-stricken housewife, but by the final act, where multiple plot threads converge and crescendo into a frenetic car chase, she’s something altogether different: a confident (if somewhat clumsy) fighter, willing to take any measure necessary to get home to her child. Kene and Blake provide a sturdy support system — the latter is especially good, and I would’ve loved to spend more time with her character — but I’m Your Woman is ultimately Brosnahan’s show, and she absolutely crushes it.