New from Jeff York on The Establishing Shot: RACHEL BROSNAHAN EXCELS AS A DEVOTED MOB MOM IN “I’M YOUR WOMAN”

In the Amazon Prime series, THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL, Emmy-winner Rachel Brosnahan has always added the tinge of a tough cookie to her vulnerable New York housewife performing stand-up. In the new dramatic film I’M YOUR WOMAN, the ratio is just the opposite. She adds a touch of light comedy to her mobster wife, making for a fierce yet flittering heroine.

Stories about beleaguered gangster molls are nothing new. Just ask Gena Rowlands, Lorraine Braco, Michelle Pfeiffer, Edie Falco, or Jessica Chastain. So what makes Brosnahan’s turn as a trophy wife who learns some hard lessons about being married to the mob different? A couple of things distinguish it starting with Brosnahan’s more naive character Jean. Jean’s stuck her head in the sand about almost all aspects of the underworld life, including the baby that her husband Eddie brings home one day. She enjoys the perks of an illegitimate life, even if they’re little more than window dressing.

The second unique element of this outing is that once Eddie (Bill Heck) disappears and, Jean must go on the lam for her own safety, she’s got a needy baby in tow. Harry (played by Justin and Jameson Charles) is a constant thorn in her side, always crying, always needing a bottle, and literally and figuratively adding weight to Jean’s escape. Such a premise could have been played for laughs, especially with a gifted comic like Brosnahan, but this film treats Harry’s presence with great urgency. Writer/director Julia Hart and her screenwriting partner and producer spouse Jordan Horowitz play things absolutely straight from the beginning to end. The baby is never a prop, but rather, a genuine character in the story and a vital part of Jean’s journey and identity.

The third, and most surprising part, of I’M YOUR WOMAN is how it defies convention at almost every turn despite the tried-and-true premise of a beleaguered mob wife. Throughout its two-hour run time, the film never fails to surprise, or even shock, for that matter. Case in point? Jean takes a long time to get her shit together, always acting as shocked by the fallout from what’s happening as we in the audience are. Next, none of the safe houses are even remotely close to being so, though how they come under siege is never quite what you’d imagine. And while Jean bonds with her cool, low-key handler Cal (Arinze Kene), there is no hint of romance between them.

Numerous key supporting players are added, the violent spools out in unanticipated ways, and even when Brosnahan earns laughs, they’re never broadly done. While still amusing at key times, her work here feels miles away from Maisel, and it’s exciting to think of the other kinds of roles she could conquer from here on out.

One can quibble with some of the film’s narrative choices. We get very little sense of who Eddie is before he disappears and sparse evidence of any strengths he had in his relationship with Jean. Some characters who should die do not, and a few of the thugs Jean encounters are even more dunderheaded than her at times. No one expects gangsters to be Rhodes scholars, but some of the losers who show up seem ill-equipped to carry water for the syndicate, let alone lethal weapons.

One cannot quibble with how good so many of the supporting players are whom Hart places around Brosnahan. In addition to Kene’s welcome presence in every scene he has, the film is given an even greater lift by Marsha Stephanie. It’s also great to see Frankie Faison and Marceline Hugot in key featured roles too. Hart mines the 1970s time period splendidly, showcasing the wide leather lapels, long, sleek Caddies, and overly wallpapered suburban homes, but the production design never becomes cartoonish. Bryce Fortner’s subtle cinematography never pushes too hard either, and the editing by Shayar Bhansali and Tracey Wadmore-Smith always sneaks up on you with its biggest moments.

It’s impressive how much this film zigs where others would be more than content to zag. Brosnahan has wisely chosen her first big starring vehicle for the big screen, playing it blonde, but never sexing it up as a dumb one. And Hart demonstrates that she’s a shrewd filmmaker, one who manages to make this mob tale feel unique and vital. It’s a thrilling and moving character study, dropping on Amazon Prime this Friday, December 11, and arrives as one of the more unexpected but welcome gifts this holiday season.

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