I Am Woman (2019) 

‘I Am Woman’, the song, became the unofficial anthem of the women’s liberation movement. Propelled by an assured performance, it spoke with a clarity of vision that stirred the emotions. In short, it was everything that I Am Woman, the film, is not.

Arriving in New York with three-year-old daughter in tow, Helen Reddy calls on Mercury Records to claim her talent contest prize of recording a single with the company. Despite being impressed by her voice, and the fact that she managed to fly from Australia to America all by herself, Mercury advises her that the prize was just a chance to audition and they have decided that female singers aren’t in vogue. Unperturbed, Helen takes up residence in a cockroach-infested apartment while performing to empty cocktail lounges, earning less than the male members of her backing band because they have families to support. She strikes up a friendship with a fellow ex-pat, journalist Lillian Roxon, who introduces Reddy to the women’s liberation movement and, indirectly, her future manager and husband Jeff Wald.

Unfortunately, Wald seems incapable of being both things at once. When he is trying to be a supportive husband, Wald is preoccupied with representing clients as diverse as Tiny Tim and Deep Purple. When Wald focuses of his wife’s career, he gradually devolves into an abusive, uncaring cocaine addict. Yet his wheeling and dealing does score Reddy a recording contract, and eventually an album that will include her signature tune.

The scenes surrounding the development, recording, performance and impact of ‘I Am Woman’ are easily this biopic’s best moments. Up to this point the film has been ambling along with adequate performances, a middling script and one too many scenes in a subway train designed to stand in for a New York location. Then the song’s familiar intro starts, played to a group of male record executives who comically dismiss the song as an angry vent. Nevertheless, they agree to hide it on her album where, courtesy of Wald’s promotion, ‘I Am Woman’ finds its audience. It is a rousing sequence that, coming at the film's midpoint, promises much for the second half. Yet like Reddy’s career, the biopic just sort of peters out, compounded by a flash-forward that bypasses some of her more successful years.

Though the rest of Reddy’s songbook may not be as a familiar to audiences today, such hits as ‘Delta Dawn’, ‘Leave Me Alone’ and ‘Angie Baby’ are performed in full, competently lip-synced by Tilda Cobham-Hervey to Chelsea Cullen’s vocals. While there is a certain amount of polish and sparkle accompanying these performances, off-stage the film is decidedly lacklustre.

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The party that Reddy met her future husband at was not hosted by Lillian Roxon, but by hypnotist and fellow Australian Martin St. James.

Helen Reddy and Jeff Wald did not move directly from New York to Los Angeles. They originally went to Chicago, where Reddy recorded her first single ‘One Way Ticket’.

Biopic makes no mention of songwriter Ray Burton’s contribution to ‘I Am Woman’.

Biopic’s jump in timeline bypasses Reddy’s roles in Airport 1975 and Pete’s Dragon.

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