Current Issue #488

Film Review:
I Am Woman

Tony Mott
Tilda Cobham-Hervey in I Am Woman

This much-discussed Aussie biopic from first time feature director Unjoo Moon features a fine performance by Adelaide’s Tilda Cobham-Hervey who, despite bearing little resemblance, works hard to capture the spirit of Helen Reddy.

A story certainly worth telling, this follows some 23 years in the life of Melbourne-born feminist icon Helen Reddy but, like most music biopics (and the genre generally), there are notable factual distortions. However, in order to make such a tale work in a bit less than two hours, how could there not be?

Helen arrives in New York with her three-year-old daughter Traci in 1966 (although most of this was filmed in Sydney) thinking she has a recording contract, but she’s told that the company have enough female singers. Bitterly disappointed, she stays on anyway, singing in nightclubs and becoming besties with rock journo Lillian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald as one of the great Oz cult figures of the early 70s).

She also meets talent manager Jeff Wald (Evan Peters), who becomes her husband after a few montages but, despite his promises, he does little, at first, to promote her career. Instead Lillian pushes Helen to write and, inspired by the blossoming women’s movement (and her annoyance at Jeff), she starts to pen the titular anthem, which is eventually played about halfway through, as Helen becomes famous quite out of the blue.

And no, it didn’t really happen like that. Naturally, the unreliable Jeff gets into the drug scene of the period, and soon he’s behaving more like Peters’ many scary characters from TV’s American Horror Story, and Helen’s feeling that her fame is waning. But, of course, it most definitely isn’t.

Director Moon and scripter Emma Jensen’s epic has its problems (including some rather drab cinematography by prolific Aussie Dion Beebe), but much of it can be excused due to Cobham-Hervey excellent performance. Surely this is her proper breakout role, and now we can all sit back and truly, as the song famously says, hear her roar.

Reviewer Rating

I Am Woman (M) is streaming on Stan from 28 August

DM Bradley

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Tilda Cobham-Hervey on becoming Helen Reddy

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