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Reddy biopic hits the right notes

by Toby Woollaston, NZ Herald

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 smiling 60s housewife 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 focuses on Helen Reddy’s career — a nuts-and-bolts portrayal of the Aussie songstress. 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 artist.

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 springboard for the film to explore Reddy’s relationship with women’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 women’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.

I Am Woman, a Goalpost Pictures and Screenpost Australia release, is rated M for “drug use and offensive language.” Running time: 116 minutes.

In the spotlight: In 1966, single-mother Helen Reddy, played by Tilda Cobham-Hervey, leaves her old life in Australia for New York and stardom, only to find that the industry doesn’t take her seriously. Picture supplied by Screenpost Australia