I Am Woman lifts up its subject, Helen Reddy, while at the same time also suffering from the same problems that plague other musical biopics.
A comeback major musical performance, some text on screen, and fade out to the credits. Walk Hard was supposed to solve the problem with musical biopics. Instead, filmmakers have not learned their lessons from the cult classic. So, too, is the case here. Another problem comes by the mere fact that the film stretches over the course of two decades. Biopics need to focus in on a more narrow time period rather than stretch things out for two decades!
When we first meet her in 1966, Helen Reddy (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) is a single mother from Australia. She arrives in New York with nothing but her daughter, a suitcase, and just over $200 cash on hand. Even though she was told she won a recording contract, the company has enough women so she’s told to return home. Ah, gatekeeping. Some things will never change. Understandably, Helen’s dreams are dashed. She’s in a pickle by deciding to stay in New York especially without the proper documents. Soon, Helen decides to look up rock journalist Lillian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald). The two become close friends and before you know it, Lillian inspires Helen to write what would become a major anthem for women’s rights, “I Am Woman.”
Helen later meets talent manager Jeff Wald (Evan Peters) and he soon represents her as an agent. And similar to other musical biopics, the two get married. The film doesn’t shy away from Wald’s drug troubles, which later destroys the relationship and we can see this through Peters’s own performance. Later on in the film, we see the two falling apart in front of our eyes. Even in discussions with the record company over a new album, Helen and Jeff do not see eye to eye.
Tilda Cobham-Hervey manages to carry the film in her performance as the singer. It should be noted that her voice ends up getting dubbed by Chelsea Cullen on the film’s soundtrack. Though it’s likely that people probably wouldn’t know this without paying attention to the song portion of the film’s credits.
Even though there are some faults with the film, the filmmakers certainly know how to place songs at key moments. The camerawork never gets too flashy in the film. I will say that one of Helen’s early recording studio visits almost comes off like a music video.
I Am Woman does an okay job with telling Helen Reddy’s story but again, it suffers from the same problems that befit the genre.
DIRECTOR: Unjoo Moon
SCREENWRITER: Emma Jensen
CAST: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Danielle Macdonald, and Evan Peters