A well-mounted example of the bio-pic formula, Unjoo Moon’s film about the late, great Helen Reddy arrives with a compelling story about the Australian’s singer’s journey to fame. Starting with Reddy’s arrival in New York, freshly divorced and with her three year old daughter in tow, it’s the story of how Reddy conquered negative (male) perceptions of women in the music industry on her way to the top, and how her own song I Am Woman became the unofficial anthem of the women’s liberation movement.
Reddy was a singer of inimitable style, and Tida Cogham-Hervey does a terrific job here of suggesting the mixture of steely determination and personal uncertainty that goes into the making of any musical super-star. Duped into travelling to NYC on the basis of a non-existent music contract, Reddy finds friendship with pioneering music journalist Lillian Roxon (well played by Danielle Macdonald) and quickly finds herself married to manager Jeff Wald, a mix of bravado and unreliability captured by American Horror Story’s Evan Peters. But settling for the life of an everyday L.A. housewife is not for Reddy, and despite Wald’s drug issues in the 70’s and early 80’s, she manages to forge a positive route forward, with a family, a career and a growing sense of who she can be on the stage of popular music.
Written by Emma Jensen, I Am Woman manages to dodge or re-cycle most of the music industry clichés, without denying us the traditional big re-enactment climax that sees Reddy perform her best-known song to crowds of women in front of the Washington Monument. But there’s also lots of industry detail to savour, from Roxon’s heroic efforts to create a music-biz encyclopaedia to Wald’s work with diverse clients including Tiny Tim, Deep Purple and Sylvester Stallone. And best of all, Jensen and Moon are firmly tuned into Reddy’s music; a scene in which Reddy contemplates separation from Wald while the soundtrack plays That Ain’t No Way To Treat A Lady matches up music and narrative in sensitive lock-step.
I Am Woman knows the ropes, and cycles through Reddy’s hits including I Don’t Know How To Love Him, Angie Baby, Leave Me Alone and You And Me Against The World. Post Bohemian Rhapsody, biopics are continuing to have a popular appeal, with I Am Woman offering a timely narrative about women’s agency and success on their own terms. Cogham-Hervey embodies the star in a luminous, memorable way, and with all other elements presented with some style, this is a highly-entertaining way to remember a unique singer, and skilfully re-package her story for a new generation to enjoy.
I Am Woman hits UK cinemas from Oct 9th 2020.
Thanks to Vertigo for early access to this title.