By: Jolie Featherstone
Unjoo Moon’s I Am Woman is a loving biopic of Helen Reddy, the artist who created the iconic song ‘I Am Woman’, the anthem of the women’s movement in the 1970s.
I Am Woman brings us into Reddy’s (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) life after she’s come to New York City to make it as a singer. After being dismissed by a major record label, and as a single mother living in a run-down hotel with her young daughter, Reddy sings at clubs at night to make ends meet (for less pay then the men in the band because “they have families to feed” she’s told). Looking for support and friendship, she connects with famed writer Lilian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald). The two become fast friends and inspire each other to follow their artistic passions. The film follows Reddy’s career as she works hard to combat oppressive gender norms and fight for her place as an artist. Concurrently, we witness her volatile marriage to her talent manager, Jeff Wald (Evan Peters). The film brings us closer to the woman who created an anthem. It details her accomplishments as an artist, as well as all that she endured as a working, married woman at a time where sexism was not only accepted, but seen as righteous.
Taking its lead from recent popular music biopics such as Judy and Bohemian Rhapsody, I Am Woman abides by a crowd-pleasing narrative structure. Though the film plays it safe, Moon’s contextual approach allows even a very cinematic telling of Reddy’s life to feel intimate.
As Reddy, Tilda Cobham-Hervey delivers an immensely lovable performance. She has a soft and gentle charisma fortified by an unwavering, quiet confidence. You move between feeling protective of Reddy to feeling utterly inspired by her.
Evan Peters is quickly making a name for himself for slaying audiences with his whole-hearted portrayals of outcasts and tortured souls on multiple seasons of American Horror Story. It should come as no surprise that he gives a precise performance as Jeff Wald, Reddy’s husband and talent manager with a hunger for success. In the film, Peters shows us the best and worst of his voracious character.
It feels essential (indeed, a relief) that this film was told by women – directed, produced, and written. The film explores both the personal and the public life of a woman walking along the edge of two worlds: the American Dream of domestic bliss and an artist yearning to rise above the borders that have been imposed on them. Indeed, in I Am Woman, Reddy both embodies and subverts the American dream. She immigrates to America as a single mother and takes gigs to make ends meet. She then goes on to become an international star with an expansive house and all the trappings of domestic bliss. She also questioned gender norms, challenged sexist notions, and, perhaps unexpectedly, became the musical voice of the women’s liberation movement. In body and in spirit she marched alongside fellow women and feminists who took to the streets in the name of change. She both lived the prodigal dream of all who envisioned America in the 1960s and became a known figure in its upheaval.
Indeed, in the opening scene, we see Reddy climbing out of the New York City subway. She is ascending the stairs while surrounded by men in suits. A poster in the subway halls shows a woman holding a bottle, with the large letters reading “Even I can open it.” Moon looks at Reddy’s personal life while situated within the societal context of the time. Through her music and her sheer existence within the public eye, Helen Reddy provided a safe refuge for so many people who felt unheard. Moon’s film gives us a peek into Reddy’s personal and professional peaks and valleys within the context of a world on the brink of lasting change.
Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:
Jolie Featherstone: @TOFilmFiles