Streamer: Amazon Prime Video
Length: 120 minutes
Until relatively recently, gangster’s wives tended to get short shrift compared to their criminal hubbies in the realm of TV and movies. Sure, Lorraine Bracco was tremendous as Karen Hill in Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas (1990), but what you really remember about that film is Ray Liotta’s rise and fall or Joe Pesci stabbing a guy to death with a pen. Certainly, Anna Gunn delivered a superb performance as Skyler White in Breaking Bad, but Bryan Cranston’s story was so much more engaging and thrilling, even as you began to realise he was actually the baddie.
There have been a few attempts to address this balance. 2018’s Widows had a solid crack with director Steve McQueen bringing some much-needed nuance to the concept, helped by a script from Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl). 2019’s The Kitchen told a similar story, however the results were much less favourable, despite having a cast that boasted the likes of Elisabeth Moss and Tiffany Haddish.
Well, now Amazon Studios are getting in on the sister act, with the Rachel Brosnahan-starring I’m Your Woman, and the result is solid albeit flawed.
I’m Your Woman tells the tale of Jean (Rachel Brosnahan), a glamorous but bored housewife who is married to Eddie (Bill Heck). Jean doesn’t really know what Eddie does for a living or rather, she doesn’t want to know, and one day when he brings a random baby home? She doesn’t ask too many questions. One night, however, Eddie vanishes and Jean must go into hiding with help from the enigmatic Cal (Arinzé Kene). She soon discovers there’s a lot about Eddie she didn’t know and that the life of a gangster’s wife can be deadly.
If that plot sounds like the premise to a trashy romance novel or disposable airport paperback, that’s totally understandable, but I’m Your Woman is actually an unexpectedly restrained affair. Scenes that could have played as shrieking melodrama or goofy trash are given a pragmatic, even subdued, treatment.
Brosnahan’s performance is extremely internal, shown mostly through penetrating looks or slumped shoulders, which is a far cry from her energetic turn as the incandescent star of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. She is ably supported by Marsha Stephanie Blake who plays Teri, Cal’s wife, a no-nonsense woman who has a secret that will have big ramifications for Jean.
Director Julie Hill (Fast Color, Stargirl) has crafted an uncommonly subtle story of a gangster’s wife, and once you tune into its deliberate rhythms there’s a lot to like. She also creates a number of tense, edge-of-your-seat set pieces that are genuinely thrilling.
Slightly less successful is the establishing of Eddie, who features more as a concept in the film than an actual character as well as a mostly unseen villain who doesn’t make much of an impact even when we finally meet them.
There are times when it feels like Hill is trying to inject the proceedings with some Coen brothers-esque quirk and it just doesn’t convince. Plus, a couple of other moments in the third act come off as a little contrived, leaving you feeling that maybe the script by Julie Hill and Jordan Horowitz was another draft or two away from perfection.
Still, it’s nice to have a story about a gangster’s missus that doesn’t fall into shrewish “HBO wife” territory, or feel like we’re watching the B-story of a more interesting narrative. Rachel Brosnahan proves once and for all she has genuine range and Julie Hill delivers a solid, if unspectacular, take on a point of view that is all too often sidelined or flat out ignored.
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