Music biopics are dicey proposition. Not only they regularly fall into well-worn grooves (forever immortalized by the masterful Walk Hard), if you want access to their music, you better make the lead a hero. Flawed, maybe, but with a good heart. This is why Get on Up was so noteworthy: Chadwick Boseman portrayed James Brown as a complex individual who wasn’t in the game to be liked.
I Am Woman makes little effort to break the traditional mould. In fact, the movie portraits Helen Reddy as almost saintly. I’m almost certain she’s more interesting than the way she’s presented here.
An Australian immigrant hoping to break into the US music market, Reddy (Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Hotel Mumbai) experiences sexism in the record industry first hand. To add insult to injury, in the 60’s producers favored Beatles knockoffs over adult-contemporary songstresses.
Her path crosses with Jeff Wald’s (Evan Peters, American Horror Story), a down on his luck producer who nevertheless is abrasive enough to help her get her foot on the door. You know that old chestnut: They fall in love, then he falls in love with cocaine. You know you’ve hit rock bottom when your kid catches you snorting coke from the carpet. Subtle, this movie is not.
Helen’s rag to riches story unfolds in parallel to the Women’s Liberation movement. Helen goes from mousy to assertive and her journey becomes tied to the crusade thanks to her hit, you guessed it, “I Am Woman”.
While obviously relevant to this moment, I Am Woman coasts a too hard on the zeitgeist and the good will towards #timesup. Not only the characters are two dimensional, the dialogue is mechanical at best. As Helen Reddy, Tilda Cobham-Hervey underplays the part, while Evan Peters chews the scenery (kind of what the script calls for). The outcome is a broad, profoundly uneven flick. It’s not unpleasant, just anodyne. Two planets/prairie dogs who appreciate the roaring.
I Am Woman is now available on VOD.