By Nick Maylor
As a product of my generation, I have to admit that my only real knowledge of Helen Reddy’s song and anthem “I Am Woman” for most of my life came from this.
Unlike many musician biopics like Ray (2005), Walk the Line (2006) and Rocketman (2019), I Am Woman features the story of someone I knew essentially nothing about before seeing the film. Helen Reddy’s particular brand of music also isn’t really my cup of tea. That by no means diminishes my appreciation for her story, one that was longing to be told for director Unjoo Moon. Reddy’s personal struggles through her life and career are what led to the creation of a song that became a searing anthem for women’s rights and the pursuit of gender equality.
The film deals with these themes from the beginning as sexual harassment, misogyny and prejudice are some major obstacles for Helen to overcome.
Coming to America as a single mother from Australia, Helen Reddy was shot down by record executives and bookers several times due to her supposed lack of appeal in the era of male ensemble rock ‘n’ roll acts, forcing her to work dive bars and underground clubs, singing her best to make ends meet, take care of her daughter and avoid the possibility of deportation.
After connecting with an old friend and journalist Lillian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald), she begins to find her footing in New York and eventually meets Jeff Wald, an ambitious young talent manager with whom she begins a relationship and eventually marries. Jeff promises to make Helen a star and works tirelessly to promote her.
The film stars Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Reddy and Evan Peters as her husband and manager Jeff Wald, who both give fine performances. Cobham-Hervey has clearly done her homework and delivers the emotional goods in several scenes. Evan Peters’ portrait of Wald’s descent into substance abuse is thoroughly nuanced and fascinating to watch. He is prone to abusive language and large outbursts, evocative of the misogynistic world the film takes place in but Wald himself is not portrayed as a monster. He is also seen as a supportive, encouraging and progressive husband/manager who truly believes in Helen’s talent and image.
Both actors effectively portray their respective characters over the course of many years. The film’s climactic performance of the titular song succeeds at inspiring the energy Reddy herself so relentlessly evoked in her career and activism.
While not as brilliant or memorable as other films in the genre, I Am Woman has something to say and it does so unapologetically. It also explores larger themes than some other biopics of the like; beyond personal tragedy, addiction and legacy.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is currently working on a book about the American Cinema Renaissance (1967-present) with John H. Foote. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor