♫ “I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman.” ♫
Those words were part of what became the anthem of the Second Wave Women’s Movement in the 1970s. Unjoo Moon makes it the cornerstone of her Helen Reddy biopic, I Am Woman. The film is in part a celebration of her music set within her story amidst the background of the Women’s Movement.
Helen Reddy (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) arrives with her daughter in New York in 1966 thinking she has won a record contract. It turns out the label has no plans for her. She sings in a lounge trying to make ends meet, but it is a struggle. She is befriended by fellow Aussie Lilian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald). At a party, she also meets Jeff Wald (Evan Peters) who is seeking a way into the management business. Jeff and Helen hit it off romantically. They move to Los Angeles where Jeff gets his foot in the door of the industry, but Helen is languishing in the role of housewife. She nags him into doing for her what he does for other clients, eventually getting her a chance to record some covers. That gets her started on her career.
Throughout the first half of the film, the demeaning nature of the male dominated entertainment industry (and culture as a whole) is obvious. She is pigeon-holed in a certain genre of music. Her husband is in many ways just as bad as everyone else in his view of the place of women, but he knows how to help Helen find success. It becomes obvious when she writes “I Am Woman” and wants to include it on her album. The men react to it, thinking it sounds “angry” and “man-hating”. But Jeff convinces them to bury it in the last half of the album because no one listens to that part anyway. But Jeff promotes that song in ways that make it a hit. Helen is one her way.
This is a by-the-numbers biopic. Intro. Struggle. Love interest. Success. Marital problems. Finding a new personal fulfillment. That motif is frequently used to tell stories that are designed to inspire. I Am Woman is a story of a woman who has to overcome both the struggle to find success, and the effects of attaining it.
Playing in the background is the society-wide struggle that women faced during that period. We see bits of the Women’s Movement and the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment. In some ways, Helen Reddy’s story reflects that period. She faces being talked down to because she is a woman. But she also becomes a symbol of a successful woman, with her own TV show, and worldwide fame. But there is also a downside to the life she has tried so hard at achieve. And in the end, like the ERA, perhaps all the success is just for show and there needs to be more done.
I Am Woman is playing in theaters and on VOD.