There is a family therapist, Paul Watzlawick, who articulated five axioms of communication. His best known axiom is summarized beautifully by one short sentence: “One cannot not communicate.” The idea is that people communicate through their behavior, including when they refrain from engaging in a behavior. Though it may seem, on the surface, as though one is not communicating when one does not say something, the absence of communication is itself communicative.
It is with this axiom in mind that I call attention to the following quote, published in The New Yorker:
“I’m Your Woman” needs these dynamic interludes, because the rest of it, alas, feels dangerously numb. Remember the rollicking tone of “Raising Arizona” (1987), another kid-kidnapping saga? Well, swing to the opposite extreme and you come to Hart’s movie, where nobody rollicks at all. Conversation is pause-heavy; smiles are fleeting and tight with anxiety; the plot is a knot.
Such commentary misses the point entirely. It is precisely in the pauses that films often communicate more to the viewer than can be expressed with words or actions. I’m Your Woman is not a typical crime thriller. Directed by a woman, Julia Hart, this film explores what it feels like to be a mob wife from the wife’s point of view. Implicitly, a number of scenes carry undertones of an astute social awareness; sexism and racism bubble under the surface. But the crux of the narrative rests upon the deleterious personal effects organized crime has on the protagonist and her child.
Rachel Brosnahan’s portrayal of Jean is superb precisely because she communicates the emotional complexity of her character’s situation through those fleeting smiles and heavy pauses. It should be noted that the plot is not actually a knot at all, though the knot Jean has in her stomach is palpable at times. Throughout this film, we quickly get the sense that Jean does in fact know more than she is letting on, though she suppresses her intuition for the sake of self-preservation. Brosnahan effectively conveys the panoply of emotions with which a mob wife must contend, including anxiety, loneliness, distrust, concern, and perseverance in the face of adversity.
A common refrain one is likely to hear about this film is one we’ve heard before about slow-burning films: it’s boring, slow-paced, blah, blah, blah. Such criticism often reveals more about the viewer than about the film. True, those who prefer the pornography of violence that typifies many of today’s movies may find this film to be boring. But for cinephiles, whose appreciation for the artistry of slow-burning films supersedes the addictive quality of endless action sequences, such criticism has become trite. Sure, the narrative offers nothing new or substantive per se, but that’s the point. Again, one cannot not communicate. Look beyond the dialogue and you will find Hart saying a lot without words.
Set in the 1970s, the neo-noir production design and cinematography are nothing short of stunning. The performances of Arinzé Kene and Marsha Stephanie Blake are equal in measure to Brosnahan’s performance; even the baby’s performance shines. This film is worth watching and is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.