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I Am Woman (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

I AM WOMAN (2019)

Starring Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Evan Peters, Danielle Macdonald, Molly Broadstock, Chris Parnell, David Lyons, Matty Cardarople, Dusty Sorg, Coco Greenstone, Genevieve Davis, Gregg Arthur, Scout Bowman, Jordan Raskopoulos, Gus Murray, Ari Newman, Christian Byers, Liam Douglass, Rita Rani Ahuja, and Fiona Press.

Screenplay by Emma Jensen.

Directed by Unjoo Moon.

Distributed by Quiver Distribution. 116 minutes. Not Rated.

Out of all the popular 1970s musical artists who are deserving of a biopic, Helen Reddy may not be the first one that people think of. Not that Reddy didn’t have a dramatic life; she most certainly did. Not that she wasn’t a big star; for the first half of the 1970s she was huge, having several smash hits, her own TV variety series and acting in films.

At the time she was every bit as big as Elton John or Queen, both of whom have had popular film “recreations” of their lives in the last few years. It’s just, for better or worse, Reddy’s music has not stuck in the pop culture zeitgeist in the way those artists’ songs did. She hasn’t had a hit single since 1977, and 50 years on from the start of her career, people would be hard-pressed to name most of her hits beyond the one which gives this film biography its title.

For the record, there were many (14 top 40 singles from 1971 to 1977), including “I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” “Delta Dawn,” “Angie Baby,” “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress),” “You and Me Against the World,” “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady,” “You’re My World,” “Peaceful” (which is great but was not used in this film, grrrr….) and more.

Even “I Am Woman,” despite its iconic status, has become somewhat mocked as slightly cheesy in the decades since Reddy topped the charts with the song. However, that isn’t taking into consideration how daring a song it was in the early-Women’s Lib era of 1972. Reddy wrote the song simply because she felt it was a subject that was not being addressed in pop music. The song soon became an anthem for female empowerment and still is a stirring call to arms in the war of the sexes. The mockery the song has received now is more to do with how the song has been misused and overused in pop culture than being a judgment on the song itself.

However, despite writing a feminist anthem, Reddy was not necessarily embroiled in the feminist movement, as this film states. Even musically, she had more hits about mentally disturbed women (“Delta Dawn,” “Leave Me Alone” and “Angie Baby”) than she did about empowered ones (just “I Am Woman,” and maybe if you really stretch things “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady.”)

Also, against the grain of traditional music-bio moves, Reddy never had any drug or alcohol problems. (Although her then-husband and manager Jeff Wald, who plays a big role in this film, had enough of those for both of them.) In fact, she was considered a bit of a goody-two-shoes at the time. But she still had one hell of a ride for several years.

I Am Woman does a nice job of taking us back to those years.

Unlike so many of these jukebox biopics (we’re looking at you, Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman), I Am Woman does not play fast and loose with the musical timeline. Most of the songs here are era-appropriate for when they were used in Reddy’s storyline. Oh, sure, they do use Reddy’s cover of Cilla Black’s “You’re My World” in the background of a scene that takes place over a decade before Reddy recorded the song. However, at that point in history, Black’s original version of the song was fairly current, so I guess it can get a pass.

They also introduce her playing “Angie Baby” many years after it was popular, but it’s a concert performance, so it makes sense that she would still be performing one of her biggest hits at shows. And it does make a certain dramatic sense to play “Love Song for Jeffrey” and “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady” as her relationship with Jeff is falling apart, not when they were recorded in happier days.

Also, periodically the film plays a little fast and loose about the meanings of the songs. Specifically, Reddy recorded “You and Me Against the World” very explicitly as a song about a mother and her child (there is even a vocal cameo by her young daughter Traci at the beginning and the end of the song), not about a woman and her best friend. Nonetheless, I Am Woman keeps teasing the term “you and me against the world” with Helen and her bestie Lillian, and eventually it suggests the song was written in honor of that friend.

However, little-known Australian actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey does a wonderful job of living in Reddy’s skin, and Evan Peters (American Horror Story) is terrifically out of control as her controlling and slightly pathetic husband Wald.

I Am Woman will likely not become the kind of smash hit that Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman became, but in a strange way it’s a slightly better – if slightly more pedestrian – biofilm than either of those, particularly Bohemian Rhapsody. (I Am Woman sort of has the vibe of those made-for-TV music biofilms VH1 used to produce in the 1990s.)

Also, it will hopefully bring to light the music of a mostly forgotten talent who deserves a pop-culture re-evaluation.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: September 9, 2020.


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