Let me confess to a bias. I love Helen Reddy’s songs, not just the anthemic ‘I Am Woman’ but all her hits that I grew up humming along with that enchantingly rasping voice. To my generation, Helen Reddy is THE WOMAN. I grew up in a foreign country adoring her spirited music and her wholesome housewifely persona. Yes, I loved Helen Reddy. Her quiet death, last month, closed a valuable chapter in my life.
I waited for her biopic and I am happy to say it lives up to all expectations. Helen Reddy epitomized the woman’s voice in the rock n roll movement at a time when women were welcomed into the Billboards chart only if they wore leather jackets and spiked boots.
Helen Reddy arrived in New York from Australia with just her little daughter and big dreams. This is the story of her rise to supreme fame, her iconic position in the world of pop music after she sang her way into the halls of fame and feminism with the anthemic, ‘I Am Woman’.
Happily this film is much more than a pretext to play that evergreen song on the screen. It is a mirror of the prejudices women in the 1970s and 80s handled in the male-dominated music industry of America. When Helen Reddy(played superbly by Tilda Cobham-Hervey) lands at a music producer’s office, the casual sexist attitude is put forward with an exasperating exactitude.
When she tells him she is divorced, the dickhead drawls, ‘What happened, Honey. He forgot your birthday?’
But this is not film flashing badges of seething sisterhood.
Rather than torpedo the narrative with marching tropes, I Am Woman focuses on the woman’s struggle to make her voice heard, in more ways than one. As Helen’s guide manager and partner Jeff Wald, who eventually betrays her trust, actor Evan Peters reminded me of Dev Anand in Vijay Anand’s Guide. Yes, he uses her. But then, so does she.
Besides Helen Reddy, played with a looming luminescence by Tilda Cobham-Hervey, there are only two other principal characters in the film, the third being her friend journalist Lilian Roxan(Danielle Macdonald) whom Helen betrays out of a misplaced feeling of professional distrust.
For those who grew up with the voice of Helen Reddy, I Am Woman is more than a well-made biopic. Its all-encompassing humanism and the applause –worthy rendering of Reddy’s popular songs had me clapping and singing. Even as a biopic about a woman who claws her way out of perennial patriarchal prejudices, I Am Woman –to borrow a phrase from the song—is strong, invincible. I will go with 3.5 stars.
Image source: IMDB
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