I Am Woman

by Toby Woollaston

Verdict: A mildly entertaining biopic that hits a few flat notes.

At the beginning of I am Woman, a young fresh-faced Australian, Helen Reddy, exits a New York tube station past an advertisement depicting a young sixties house-wife smiling next to a bottle of tomato sauce with the words “Even I can open it”. Blink and you’ll miss it, but the brief shot is supposed to set the tone of the film. However, although the film is about a woman who’s titular song put a rocket under the women’s rights movement, I Am Woman is, disappointingly, not the feminist film you might imagine. Rather, it focusses on Helen Reddy’s career—a nut-and-bolts portrayal of the Aussi songstress. And if you want to see a film about Helen Reddy the diva, rather than Helen Reddy the feminist, then this is your film.

Portrayed as a mild-mannered but strong-willed woman, Tilda Cobham-Hervey (Hotel Mumbai) gives a determined, if somewhat patchy performance as the doe-eyed Aussie. Alone in the big smoke, a toddler in tow, and only a few dollars to her name, I Am Woman traces the professional arc of Reddy’s career and gives ample time to show off her many hits.

Evan Peters (American Animals) slithers into frame as Helen’s husband—a roguish coke-snorting talent-manager whose self-interest threatens their relationship. It’s a train-wreck you can see a mile off but provides the perfect spring-board for the film to explore Reddy’s relationship with woman’s rights. Or, at least it would have, had writer Emma Jensen‘s clunky screenplay taken the time to explore it with more vigour. It’s a shame, especially given Jensen’s superb feminist-slanted writing in the recent Mary Shelley biopic.

Despite these missteps, the film just manages to hold itself together thanks in part to high production values and some very well-considered cinematography. However, Reddy’s depiction as the flag-bearer of woman’s rights is sadly lost within this safe and formulaic biopic. I Am Woman is a serviceable and mildly entertaining film, yes, but it still feels like an opportunity missed.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.