Director Unjoo Moon’s biopic about iconic feminist singer Helen Reddy is a traditional and predictable hero’s journey. It’s lightweight and full of cliches, however, Tilda Cobham-Hervey’s strong performance saves the film and wins us over. She marvelously captures Reddy’s star-power, her determination to chase the dream, and her strength as a woman who wants to be heard.
The film opens with Helen moving to New York in 1966 after she won a singing contest in her home country Australia, hoping to get a record contract and become a star. However, things don’t work out as she had wished for due to the reason that record executives are solely crazy for male groups during this “Beatles era”.
Helen is struggling in a world dominated by men, and she knows she has to fight against it. She has the support from Lilian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald), an influential music journalist and author of rock music bible “Rock Encyclopedia”. These two females are fighting for dreams, equality, and distance after fame. Their unbreakable friendship will later shine in Helen’s heartbreaking song “You And Me Against the World”, written after Lilian’s sudden death in 1973.
Also in New York, Helen meet-cute with Jeff Wald (Evan Peters) who later proposes to move to Los Angeles and serves as her manager. Though Jeff promises he’s going to make her a star, their relationship is full of betrayal and abuse. Jeff spends most of his time on his rock band clients, meanwhile, Helen is domestically trapped. It’s until Helen records her cover “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” that makes her become a true star.
Of course, Helen eventually writes her groundbreaking song “I Am Woman”, which takes the world (to be specific, housewife and feminist audiences) by storm and then becomes the theme for the Women’s Movement. Director Moon adds a sub-plot that put Helen’s rise parallel to the Equal Rights Amendment, which fights against Phyllis Schlafly (Please watch Hulu’s “Mrs. America”. It’s the must-see this year).
“I Am Woman” uses montages to go through some of Helen’s most glamorous and important moments of her career including her notorious Grammy acceptance speech in 1973 when she said “Thanking God, because SHE makes everything possible”, showing that becoming a global star is not the main topic here in the film, female issue is instead. Nonetheless, in the film’s third act, director Moon focuses more on the broken marriage as Jeff becomes a violent and paranoid drug addict. The film then turns into a formulaic stereotype of “a noble woman wrongly choose a bad guy”.
Throughout the film, there are several scenes of Helen singing one of the most powerful lyrics from her song “Hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore”. It’s defiantly not a coincidence that these feminist icons appear on films and televisions this single year: Helen Reddy in “I Am Woman”, Gloria Steinem in “The Glorias”, and Phyllis Schlafly in “Mrs. America”…just to name a few. Right at this moment, woman’s rights is still a political battlefield, and it’s ridiculous and sad that people are still debating Roe v. Wade case (1973) under the current presidency.
It’s the world’s loss that Helen Reddy in real life just passed away on September 29, 2020. Fortunately, her legacy still aspires to people all around the globe and has a great impact on woman’s movement. You don’t have to be sorry for being “too angry” after Helen opened a door for women while men weren’t able to. In real life, not everyone can achieve their goals like Helen did. Director Moon’s biopic is lightweight, yet it shares the same experiences with us, and it welcomes us to embrace Helen’s dream and warmth.
- Distributor: Quiver Distribution
- Production: Goalpost Pictures and Deep Blue Pacific
- Director: Unjoo Moon
- Writer: Emma Jensen
- Cast: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Evan Peters, and Danielle Macdonald
- Premiere at Toronto International Film Festival 2019. Available for VOD in US September 11, 2020.
Read the review in Chinese