I .have to admit, my knowledge of the life and career of Helen Reddy wasn’t exactly in depth before I watched ‘I am Woman’. I knew she sang the already mentioned song, and that it had been the anthem of the Women’s Lib movement in the early 1970’s (I also seem to remember the Sex and the City ladies singing it on karaoke in SATC 2). I. also love the song ‘Angie Baby’, which I believe was her only chart hit in the UK, but other than that, nothing. But I still settled down to watch the movie this week on Netflix, and have to say it is an enjoyable film, with some fabulous 70’s and 80’s fashions, and a really good central performance from Tilda Cobham-Hervey.
Helen Reddy wasn’t your typical female singer. She came to America after winning a competition in her native Australia that was supposedly to record a song with a major music label. She traveled with her young daughter Tracey in tow, after separating from her husband, but found that the competition was just an audition to record a song, and the label had decided against it. Despite this, and lack of money, she decided to stay in America and seek her fortune.
She met Jeff Wald, who became both her husband and manager, but fame is not around the corner until Helen threatens to leave Jeff, not prepared to be just a housewife. Months of phone calls and touting around record labels finally give Helen the chance to make a single, she records her version of ‘I don’t know how to love him’ from Jesus Christ Superstar and breaks the charts in Canada. She then co-writes the song that will give her immortality, writing something that she believes women would enjoy listening to with radio airplay filled with rock music.
‘I am Woman’ is a massive hit, a number one record that becomes the anthem of the emerging women’s right movement, and Helen further increases its potency when she refers to God as ‘she’ as she picks up her Grammy award.
Hit after US hit followed, but her personal life and marriage floundered as her success grew. She also felt guilt after the death of her close friend, music journalist Lilian Rixon. The film chronicles all the tribulations Helen faced due to the increasing cocaine dependency of husband Jeff, and his mismanagement of her earnings which leaves her in dire financial straits.
I Am Women isn’t the perfect biopic, I would prefer more music and less marriage if I’m honest, and many of Helen’s musical achievements are missed out. But it is entertaining, well acted and the songs are just great. The restaging of the musical numbers are really well done, and in Tilda Cobham-Hervey you have a real star is born moment.
You can currently watch ‘I am Woman’ on Netflix.