Toronto International Film Festival Review – ‘I Am Woman’

Published 5:16 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2019

By Lauren Bradshaw

“I Am Woman,” directed by Unjoo Moon, is a timely, yet familiar biopic on music legend Helen Reddy and her contribution to the women’s liberation movement. It’s interesting (and disheartening) to see that many of the issues Helen and her compatriots were fighting for in the ’70s and ’80s are the same issues we are still fighting for today.

Tilda Cobham-Hervey as singer Helen Reddy, and Evan Peters as Jeff Wald in a scene from “I Am Woman.” — Courtesy Photo

Unfortunately, the film does struggle with setting itself apart from the other hundreds of musician biopics we have seen over the years, leaning into cliched scenes like cocaine-fueled rages and forgetting friends due to fame … to name a few. But despite these hiccups, I think it will be difficult for audiences to come out of this film feeling anything but empowered and thankful for Reddy’s contributions to the women’s rights movement.

The movie begins right after Helen (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) and her young daughter move from Australia to New York City in pursuit of Helen’s record contract. Helen was under the impression that she already had a deal, but it turns out the record company was in the midst of Beatles-induced boyband fever and had no place on its roster for a female singer. Now Helen has to try to make ends meet by singing in nightclubs as she tries to find other ways to pursue her dreams.

Helen was alone and down on her luck in New York … that is until she meets up with her old friend from Australia, Lillian Roxon (Danielle Brooks), now considered the Mother of Rock after writing her rock encyclopedia. Helen almost looks up to Lillian, seeing her friend as an example of someone that could move from Australia and make it work in New York. Helen also starts dating Jeff Wald (Evan Peters), a manager who recognizes Helen’s talent and promises to help take her career to the next step if she will move to Los Angeles with him. And so begins Helen’s winding journey to stardom.

Tilda Cobham-Hervey gives a star-making performance as Helen Reddy, perfectly embodying her ambitious, uncompromising spirit. It’s hard to believe that at just 24 years old, she was able to span 30-plus years of Reddy’s life. Evan Peters also gave a fantastic performance, showing Jeff Wald as both a supportive husband and a materialistic jerk eaten up by the entertainment industry. Danielle MacDonald has been one of my favorite new actresses to watch since I first saw her in “Patti Cake$” and she really makes a lot out of the limited screen time she has on-screen.

Although the script at times delves into cheesy, expositional dialogue, I think it does present a true, yet disgusting depiction of how female musicians were treated at that time (and still are today in many cases). For instance, the opening scene showed a particularly gross record executive asking Helen about her weight and dating prospects and a later interview with a reporter included questions about whether she was wearing a bra. Yikes.

I fully admit that before “I Am Woman,” I was more familiar with Helen Reddy’s song than I was Helen Reddy herself. But thanks to this film, I now know the fantastic musician behind many iconic songs, including the definitive song on female empowerment. Full disclosure, it has also been almost 24 hours since I saw the film and I cannot get “I Am Woman” out of my head.

My Review: B-/C+

LAUREN BRADSHAW is a lover of all movies, even the bad ones. Follow her on twitter @flickchickdc. She grew up in Courtland, graduated from Southampton Academy and doubled-majored in foreign affairs and history at the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.