A couple of quick first impressions re: “I’m Your Woman,” an Amazon star vehicle for its “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Rachel Brosnahan.
One, cowriter/director Julia Hart (“Fast Color”) should remember that the need for pacing doesn’t change just because you’re making something to stream rather than test viewer’s patience in a cinema. Just because Amazon cuts a check and says “up to two hours” is NO reason to drag and mope and slow-walk us toward that as a finish line.
This might have played better at 90 minutes. Just saying.
And two, Ms. Brosnahan, and maybe Ms. Hart if this was a stage direction she gave you — sleep-walking through the first two and a half acts is no way to engage the viewer.
You’re playing a young 1970s housewife lacking much in the way of skills and wit. Your thief-husband (Bill Heck) gets into trouble with the mob and that puts you on the run with a baby he just brought home to you days before.
Sure, you’re supposed to be passive, yanked about by a stranger (Arinzé Kene). You can’t cook, have no clue what to do with a baby, can’t even drive with anything resembling skill. You’re a pre-feminist color-coordinated stereotype. We get it. But 90 minutes of “numb” makes for a seriously dull lead in a movie that doles out its action sparingly, and never grasps for one blessed second the need for “urgency.”
“I’m Your Woman,” set in 1977 (cars date it) in urban and rural Pennsylvania, begins in deadpan “American Beauty” voice-over. Trophy wife Jean (Brosnahan) is married to Eddie (Heck), and “every morning Eddies kisses Jean goodbye (Brosnahan flatly narrates) and then, Jean is alone.”
Until he brings home a infant boy — “It’s all worked out.”
“What’s his name?”
“It’s up to you.”
Jean never asks enough questions, perhaps with cause. But she underreacts to this, setting the tone of Brosnahan’s performance. It takes a couple of acts of shocking violence, or her frustrations at trying to fry a damned egg, to get a rise out of her.
One night Eddie doesn’t come home. An associate shows up and wakes her, throws money and nothing else into a tote bag and orders her to go with this stranger who is showing up at any second.
Cal (Kene, of British TV’s “Flack” ) is just as tight-lipped as everybody else. He puts her and the baby in a car, tucks her into a motel, finds her a safe house.
“No people,” he tells her. Don’t even plug in the phone unless it’s an emergency. And then he’s off.
This limping life-on-the-lam thriller has hints of “Gloria,” the mob moll on the run with a hunted child in its setup and structure. But it’s not remotely as interesting, because our heroine is dull-by-design and she’s not asking for information the average viewer is dying to know.
The baby’s got a fever! Hospital! “No people” he said. But in the merest flash of maternal instincts, she insists.
The friendly little old lady neighbor is a little too friendly, or is Jean just being paranoid?
The suspense is kept to a minimum, and the jolts, when they come, arrive and end in short, semi-shocking bursts of violence. Tension is in short supply here and “twists” in the third act, as Jean pieces some of the puzzle together, are one long shrug.
Shifts in Jean’s agency — her taking charge instead of being a package bundled off, like a babe in swaddling clothes — are abrupt and unmotivated. There is no screen time developing her connection to husband Eddie. We don’t expect her to feel anything about his absence other than curiosity, or fear for his safety because she’s, say it with me, “numb.”
Hart scripted and shot this like the pilot to a series that got away from her. Dramatic incidents that grab us are few and far between, and too-poorly-spaced-out to hold attention.
The journey “I’m Your Woman” takes us on offers no surprises, and Brosnahan — so fun as “Mrs. Maisel” — gives us nothing to connect with and grab hold of here. Klutzy cook, barely-fit mother, “lady driver?” Meh.
Even the tiny moments of temper have a passivity that is just uninteresting to watch. The fact that supporting players Kene, Marsha Stephanie Black and Frankie Faison pitch their performances to match Brosnahan suggest “bad directing choices.”
For Brosnahan, who underwhelmed in the last feature I saw her in (“Change in the Air”) as well, a come-to-Jesus realization is in order. Getting all dolled-up in ’70s (not ’60s, like “Mrs. Maisel”) fashions, styled and made-up for motion picture close-ups doesn’t constitute a performance. She’s just a pretty still-life for too much of “I’m Your Woman” for this to work.
MPA Rating: R for violence and language
Cast: Rachel Brosnahan, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Arinzé Kene, Bill Heck and Frankie Faison
Credits: Directed by Julia Hart, script by Julia Hart, Jordan Horowitz. An Amazon release.
Running time: 1:59