I Am Woman: Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady, by David Bax
Helen Reddy’s life, it would seem, was endlessly eventful. At least, that’s the approach taken by her biopic, I Am Woman, directed by Unjoo Moon and written by Emma Jensen. Like high school students just trying to fill out their double spaced page allotment, they cram in every conceivable detail while leaving little room for reflection. Reddy (a strong but largely wasted performance by Tilda Cobham-Hervey) has gone through whole acts’ worth of rejection before the film has reached the seven minute mark. The result is exhausting and impenetrably superficial.
We meet Reddy first in 1966 upon her arrival to New York City with her three year old daughter in tow on the empty promise of recording a single for Mercury Records. Determined to stick it out in the States, she gets a job singing in a club, befriends fellow Aussie rock critic Lillian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald) and meets Jeff Wald (Evan Peters), her husband- and manager-to-be. I Am Woman presents the ups and downs of an artistic career as part and parcel with those of Reddy’s marriage to an egomaniacal, though occasionally compassionate, drug addict.
Peters is a talented actor but the interpretation of Wald here, never far from his coke spoon, is laughably formulaic. There is almost no single moment in I Am Woman, in fact, that doesn’t feel like an excerpt from a parodic sketch. Macdonald has similarly been a welcome presence in movies like Patti Cake$ and Dumplin’ but this depiction of Roxon in interchangeable with any other film’s sassy best friend who’s got no worries other than to cater to those of the protagonist. That is, until she starts coughing, which only ever means one thing in the movies.
Apart from the fact that it’s an insult to the real Roxon–a seminal figure in rock music history–her characterization isn’t the movie’s biggest problem. So much of the story revolves around Helen and Jeff’s marriage that it’s ruinous how little chemistry Cobham-Hervey and Peters have. Not that that’s their fault, though. No one could make this dialogue work; in their meet-cute, when Jeff fails to chip in at Helen’s rent party, she coos, “This one’s on me.”
It’s also hard to buy into the movie’s reality because of its overthought production and costume design. The entire film looks simultaneously expensive and fake, like a vintage magazine photo shoot.
I Am Woman‘s only saving grace is the music. Cobham-Hervey believably embodies Reddy in her confident stage presence (lip-synching to vocals by Chelsea Cullen). And, wisely, Moon dots the film with full song performances. In these ways, even culminating with a recreation of a charitable gig from the 1980s, the movie resembles Bohemian Rhapsody. Unfortunately, it resembles that movie in all the other ways too.