(2020) (Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Evan Peters) (Not Rated)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Drama: A woman strives to make it in the music world and must contend with sexism and then the aftermath of her beyond her wildest dreams success.
It's 1966 and Helen Reddy (TILDA COBHAM-HERVEY) has flown from Australia to New York City where she believes she's going to have a record contract. But she's informed that there's little demand for female artists and thus is relegated to performing live in small dinner clubs.
Her luck seems to change when she meets fellow Aussie Lillian Roxon (DANIELLE MACDONALD), a music critic also living in NYC who's writing an encyclopedia on rock and roll artists. They became fast friends and at a birthday party that she's throwing for Helen, the young singer meets Jeff Wald (EVAN PETERS). He not only sweeps her off her feet, but later convinces her that they should move to Los Angeles to build her career from there.
After the move and their marriage, he's busy managing acts ranging from Tiny Tim to Deep Purple, but she's bored at home and wonders when her turn will come next. She eventually forces him to pester a record label exec until the latter gives in. That man does, Helen knocks her demo out of the park, and it's then off to the races and the top of the charts as she begins delivering one hit single after another.
But with success going to his head and cocaine clouding his mindset, Jeff's behavior begins to put a strain on their marriage, even while she continues to become one of the biggest recording artists in the world.
- OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
When it comes to movie characters, if I had to guess without doing any research, I'd say there are probably more that are fictitious than those based on real people. But when I looked up the Wikipedia entry on biographical characters in films, I was shocked by how extensive the list is.
There's little question, however, that when it comes to movies involving musicians, the real-life ones clearly outnumber the made-up characters. Of recent, we had ones about Elton John and Freddie Mercury, and going back further older films told the stories of James Brown, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jim Morrison, and, of course, Elvis.
Most of the stories revolve around the incredibly talented real-life performers who seemingly did everything in their power to self-destruct, be that from letting fame and fortune go to their heads or letting substance abuse get the better of them.
Those featuring female performers, however, depict the trials and tribulations of being a female performer in an industry mostly run by men, and how the likes of Tina Turner, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, and others had to overcome plenty of obstacles along the way.
You can now add Helen Reddy to that latter list. While today's kids probably have no idea who she is or what she sang (which is probably similarly true regarding the rest of her music biz "sisterhood" those of us old enough certainly remember her 1970s era hits such as "Delta Dawn," "You and Me Against the World" and, most definitely, her women's rights anthem, "I am Woman."
Following in that long line of biopics, Reddy now joins the list of covered artists with the appropriately titled "I Am Woman." As played by Tilda Cobham-Hervey (who delivers a knockout, Oscar nomination worthy performance), we see the Australian singer from the time she arrives in 1966 New York with little more than her voice, a 3-year-old daughter, and a dream.
Dismayed that a promised contest-winning recording contract is not to be, she becomes a lounge singer performing to sparse crowds when not making spaghetti for her daughter in their roach-infested hotel. Things look up when she meets fellow Aussie Lillian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald), a music critic and feminist who throws a birthday party for Reddy that literally changes her life.
For that's where she meets Jeff Wald (Evan Peters) who's certain she's going to be a star and convinces her to move to Los Angeles where he becomes a producer for the likes of Tiny Tim and Deep Purple (talk about an eclectic client combo) but can't or maybe doesn't really want to promote her and her work.
Following an ultimatum, however, the better side of bipolar personality sees the light and soon she's recording one hit after another, with him living off the spoils of her success with a mansion, a Rolls, and more than enough cash to sustain his heavy coke habit.
As directed by Unjoo Moon from a screenplay by Emma Jensen, it's all pretty standard music biopic stuff, but is nicely balanced with material revolving around the Equal Rights Amendment as filtered through the eyes of Reddy who's seen more than her share of sexism and misogyny. As related to that, and what makes it all work, though, is the performance by Cobham-Hervey (who previously was seen in the uber-intense "Hotel Mumbai").
While I don't know if she's actually singing the songs or lip-synching, it doesn't matter as those performances and numbers come off real enough and the actress is simply radiant in the part (and should be at the front of the list should there ever be a biopic made about Sandra Bullock as the physical resemblance is there).
While Peters' hot-cold performance at times feels like it changes too easily, everything about Cobham-Hervey's work feels natural and real and you simply can't take your eyes off the actress. I imagine we'll be hearing her "roaring" through future roles. Until then, "I Am Woman" is her crowning achievement, resulting in the film earning a 7 out of 10 rating.
Reviewed September 7, 2020 / Posted September 11, 2020
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