I’m Your Woman and Shadow in the Cloud are both fantastic genre movies, but they’re also special for how they’re uniquely about a woman’s perspective on the frustrating limitations of a man’s world. And they’re each written and directed with a very specific twist where no man could go.
I’m Your Woman is a 70s heist thriller, but as usual, the wife is left behind. It’s a thankless role. The husband doesn’t even tell her what they’re doing. She gets a kiss on top of the head. “I’ll be home late tonight, honey,” he says while his scuzzy buddies loiter in the foyer, their guns hidden under their shirts. When the heist goes wrong, she’ll be sent packing to stay with her out-of-town sister while the rest of the movie happens.
Unfortunately for the audience’s situational awareness, the wife is the main character. Writer/director Julia Hart limits everything to her perspective, so we know as little as she does. What makes it work so well is the amazing Rachel Brosnahan, who plays the character with a blonde vacuousness shocked into resolve and, eventually, action. Hart also gives her a couple of wonderful characters to work with, and their collective powerlessness is partly the point of the movie: an elderly widow who lives down the street, a black man somehow connected to her husband’s scuzzy buddies, a black woman who has to care for a young son and elderly father. Remember, this is the 70s. The early 70s. Oh, she also has a baby in tow. It’s a testament to Brosnahan’s screen presence that she is only upstaged by the adorable baby a dozen or so times. Anyone who can hold her own against a cute little baby knows what she’s doing. The Mandalorian might be able to kill a hundred stormtroopers, but he can’t hold his own against a baby. He can’t even hold his own against a fake alien baby!
I’m Your Woman is one of those rare movies in which characters who would never even meet are thrown together and forced to interact. It’s a movie in which people learn about each other instead of just shooting at each other, or getting in car chases, or evading the cops. It has all that stuff, but it’s almost incidental. Part of what makes the script so intriguing is that the villains barely even register because we don’t even know who they are. It’s a refreshing approach to a thriller, and it’s an especially fascinating iteration on 70s cinema.
Shadow in the Cloud is a creature feature about the crew of a B-17 bomber in World War II dealing with a monster onboard. Unfortunately for them, they’re not the main character. Instead, some dame shows up right before take-off. She’s got a McGuffin, top secret orders, and the main protagonist’s role. They’re so annoyed at this that they close her up in the ball turret and decide to leave her there for the rest of the movie.
I figured I would watch this for a laugh. A Max Landis script, a first-time director, cute little confused Chloe Moretz Grace constantly onscreen pretending to be…what? A bad-ass World War II airman heroine? A mysterious super spy? A woman with an occult secret? Shadow in the Cloud is one of those movies that runs on the mystery of what’s in the box. And when it comes time to put up or shut up, it delivers.
Roseanne Liang directs Shadow in the Cloud like a segment in a Creepshow anthology, with a lurid sepiatone palette and a pulsing synthesizer soundtrack that recalls 1983 more than 1943. But there’s nary a jump scare because Liang isn’t interested in startling you. Blumhouse this ain’t. As Maude — her name is Maude! — meets the crew of the bomber over the comms, Liang shoots the men against a black background as Maude recalls their faces from her brief introduction before take-off. This is pulp theater, through and through, but it’s only going to show us Maude’s perspective. What kind of B-17 movie doesn’t have adoring exterior shots of World War II’s most iconic airplane?
Contrast Liang’s confident approach to Patty Jenkin’s inept Wonder Woman movie, a period piece without style, with no sense of time, with no rules or internal consistency, as bland as a weekly episode of an 80s TV show, with a heroine who can’t muster much more than a pretty smile. But just as Liang delivers, so does Moretz. She may not be able to bring as much depth to blonde vacuousness as Brosnahan, but she’s got the moxie for a creature feature. She screams wonderfully as she mans a .50 caliber gun emplacement. “I told you not to let go of this,” Maude sighs, exasperated, as one of the men loses the McGuffin yet again. She tromps off to recover it, ripping the torn sleeve off her flight suit. Hit Girl has finally become a woman, in all the best senses of the word.