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I Am Woman
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Unjoo Moon
scr Emma Jensen
prd Rosemary Blight, Unjoo Moon
with Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Evan Peters, Danielle Macdonald, Chris Parnell, David Lyons, Christian Byers, Matty Cardarople, Dusty Sorg, Jordan Raskopoulos, Gus Murray, Molly Broadstock, Scout Bowman
release Aus 28.Aug.20,
US 11.Sep.20, UK 9.Oct.20
TORONTO FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Energetic and engaging, this biopic about singer Helen Reddy carefully highlights the larger issues that drove her career and inspired her bigger hits, even as it sidelines major elements of her life. The central theme is that women shouldn't need to sacrifice their career, education or family simply because of their gender. This gurgles underneath each step in Reddy's journey, which gives the film a wider scope than expected.
After winning an audition, Helen (Cobham-Hervey) arrives in 1966 New York as a single mother. But with Beatlemania raging, the label isn't interested in female artists. So she hits the clubs, paid less than male band members with families to support. She decides to take on the system with fellow Aussie Lillian Roxon (Macdonald), a music journalist tired of writing puff pieces. Then Helen meets aspiring agent Jeff (Peters), and they move to Los Angeles to boost their careers. But of course, success brings both opportunities and challenges, including a drug problem for Jeff.
Throughout the narrative, Helen and Lilian battle against male-dominated industries that sideline them. Helen even has to give Jeff an ultimatum, to pay some attention to her as well as his other clients like Deep Purple, Tiny Tim and Sylvester Stallone. His reply, "You're a housewife, face it," distills her resolve, so Jeff helps her make it. It's fascinating to watch her experience feed into the eponymous mega-hit that has become an anthem for change for generations of women.
Cobham-Hervey gives a sparky-smiley performance that radiates intelligence and determination, livening up her interaction with the terrific Macdonald and Peters. But this is essentially a one-woman show, and Helen's the only character who has a fully formed arc as an artist and activist who also happens to be a wife and mother. So it's odd that she comes across as both empowered and cold. Even if their roles are less defined and rather thankless, Macdonald and Peters add likeable textures to each scene.
While making terrific use of Reddy's biggest hits, the film has the usual structure, following a young artist's struggle through poverty and other obstacles to global success, then facing various bittersweet triumphs and setbacks (her movie career is skipped entirely). Director Moon's attempt to mix important national issues with personal melodrama begins to feel rather belaboured, because Reddy stands strong as a superstar even as crises overwhelm both her husband and her best friend. It's an awkward balance that doesn't always work, even as story inspires us.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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