It is to the credit of Helen Reddy and her chart topping 1972 breakout hit “I Am Woman”, that I went in completely blind to director Unjoo Moon’s movie, but despite knowing nothing about it, was able to gather precisely what I may be in for from its title. Almost 50 years on, this song and its artist still have that power and still resonate and I think this biopic, about Reddy’s rise to stardom and her life, might mange to do that too. If not even educate some fresher generations on this moment in music history.
As the 24-year-old aspiring singer Helen Reddy (a sensational Tilda-Cobham-Hervey) saves all she has and travels to the USA from Australia with her young daughter in 1966, I Am Woman follows her defiant battle against the sexism of the industry, as well as her attempts to get her music out there and speak to an audience increasingly wanting to be heard themselves, during a time of gender revolution.
I Am Woman undoubtedly sees Moon stick sometimes quite strongly to biopic genre formula but the glowing heart beneath her film and in Emma Jensen’s screenplay is not only undeniable but it is so infectious. This is a true story not without its trials and tribulations, as it touches on some painful moments of Reddy’s life, like her husband and manager Jeff Wald’s (Evan Peters) succumbing to addiction and the other personal tolls music stardom takes on aspects of Reddy’s past. Most poignantly her friendship with pioneering journalist Lillian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald). However the film does focus on the feminist aspect of her story and career, which peaks with the industry-shaking success of the title track.
How the film covers real events, reminded me to a degree of 2017’s fabulous Battle of the Sexes or 2014’s wonderful Pride, in that this is a true story that decades on still feels on the pulse and incredibly important, and while some gaps remain in the years covered here, the film hits the big notes and while doing so offers a hopeful and feel good tale of success against the odds and how support and love can yield incredible strength.
The cast are all on great form, and while some characters dip in and out of the film, the ones with a bigger presence shine. Evan Peters is compelling as Wald, an in the know channel of support but an increasingly challenging individual who helps his wife be heard but sadly increasingly loses sight of who he is thanks to the wealth of her mounting fame and his destructive mounting drug habit. While MacDonald is very charismatic as Roxon, whose sub-plot becomes quite a tragic one but one with an uplifting legacy attached to it. However, this film really is a showcase for its star, and Tilda-Cobham-Hervey is absolutely excellent as Reddy. She beams with hope, while also capturing the resilience and drive, as well as the sometimes overpowering emotions that come with enduring the ever changing waves of fame, family and legacy.
Rafael May’s music is as good as you’d expect, making wise selective use of some of the singer’s discography, while Dion Beebe’s cinematography places you in the midst of the eras it spans, while cleverly utilising some real footage, which is rather slickly edited into the shot scenes by editor Dany Cooper. I Am Woman may undoubtedly follow some predictable paths in retelling this tale but this is a gratifying experience all the same, thanks to the clear love the filmmakers have for the material.
I Am Woman is not without its hardships but with a great big inclusive heart – at a time when many will welcome that most warmly – it manages to be a film with a soul as powerful as its voice.