AFI FEST kicked off with a world premiere that almost requires an introduction. According to writers Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz, “I’m Your Woman,” is inspired by a 1981 James Caan film, “Thief.”
I could tell you to watch that film, but it is currently available only if it start up a free seven-day trial on Cinemax on Amazon Prime Video or Hulu. So I’ll pass on that. “Thief” was about the man who having built a criminal career had hoped to settle down with his girlfriend, but ends up leaving her and going on the run. Played by the Tuesday Weld with long blonde hair, parted down the middle, the girlfriend tells the titular thief, “I’m your woman; you’re my man.” And that’s how the title of this film came to be. The writers wanted to follow the woman, to see what happened to her.
The Zoom pre-screening party was a virtual reunion of the writers, Rachel Brosnahan, Arinzé Kene and Marsha Stephanie Blake talking about favorite drinks and martinis. The only part of a martini I’d want would be the olive so there you have it. I’m not knowledgeable to discuss the merits of shake versus stirred. In the pre-screening virtual party, Blake expressed a joy in getting to drive the big cars, boxy American gas-guzzling cars.
The world of “I’m Your Woman” is also foreign to me and not just because it is an East Coast story. We are whisked back to another era, one made familiar to a new generation with “That 70s Show” (1998 to 2006). It’s an era of bell bottoms and hippies. Goldenrod and browns, avocado greens and yellows were popular. Patterned wall paper was the thing. The initial scenes are a delight of 1970s interior design.
When we meet Jean, she is dressed in fushia-colored outfit and finds the tag is still on and can’t seem to find a scissors in her home to cut it off. She smokes, she lounges, but she doesn’t seem to have a purpose. Her husband, Eddie (Bill Heck) comes home with, of all things, a baby. Just what Jean wanted but couldn’t have. Jean doesn’t really seem ready to become a mother. She’s not really the domestic type.
With baby now part of the family, suddenly Jean finds herself on the run, taken by Eddie’s friend Cal (Kene). Eddie gives her a bag of cash. That should have been a hint for her. No one keeps that much cash on hand, especially with the counting bands still on them. She knew he was a thief, but Cal knows Eddie kept secrets from Jean and it doesn’t seem like Jean bothered to ask.
What you might be asking yourself is: How did these two get together. What was their courtship like? We don’t know Eddie well enough to understand why he chose her and why he chose him. We don’t feel the pull of his love or the insidious red flags coming down the road before Jean is suddenly on the road. Cal is Black and that becomes an issue for a concerned, though racist officer but nothing happens.
The original safe house comes with a busy-body neighbor who brings Jean something good to eat, but also thrusts her into danger. Saved by Cal, Jean must run again.
Jean ends up holed up in a cabin with Teri, Cal’s wife. And then, both Jean and Teri realize that Cal must be in trouble and join forces to find him. She will learn more about Eddie and she will learn to use a gun, but we’ve got to wonder if Jean didn’t have friends and family. Jean is such a blank slate and her emotional life with Eddie and even the baby that becomes there all exist without any background or emotional grounding.
Hart and Horowitz’s script doesn’t have dialogue that snaps or crackles like Brosnahan’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” There are moments dominated by silence without taking us anywhere.
Certainly I want to hear more women’s stories and find out the magnitude of their joys and suffering when they fall for the wrong guy or their guy gets in trouble. As director, Hart doesn’t give us anything to make this anxious road trip worth taking. There’s a journey, but it is dull and no little ticks or insights serve as emotional scenario along the way. Yet “I’m Your Woman” doesn’t provide an emotional hook to draw one in or the dull ache of a “what could have been” when the happy days are burned down to the ground by bad choices and bad luck.
“I’m Your Woman” had its world premiere at AFI FEST on 15 October 2020. The film is slated to be released on 11 December 2020 by Amazon Studios.