I Am Woman is what happens when an intriguing subject and empowering themes meet lackluster narrative structure. Helen Reddy’s story unfolds concurrently with the fight to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, but her anthem and passion for women’s rights and equality are drowned out by an unwillingness to push the envelope.
Directed by Unjoo Moon with a screenplay by Emma Jensen, I Am Woman begins after Helen (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) lands in the U.S. from Australia, ready to make a name for herself as a singer. After a promised record deal falls through, she meets acclaimed (and then-unemployed) manager Jeff Wald (Evan Peters) who, of course, vows to make her a star. And so, Helen, with her daughter in tow, packs up her bags and leaves New York City for Los Angeles to start anew and kickstart her life as a musician.
Considering that the film is a biopic about Reddy, there’s very little exploration of her life beyond a chronology of events. Her rise to fame is tempered and her activism nearly nonexistent. While her hit song, “I Am Woman,” became an anthem, the remarks on feminism and equality are minimal and come off as mere talking points that needed to be brought up rather than things Reddy was truly passionate about.
Any real conflict or dynamic deep dives into Reddy’s career and personal life are left by the wayside, which leaves major moments — her clash with best friend and journalist Lilian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald), her confrontation with Jeff over his mismanagement of money, and her retirement from singing — frustratingly empty.
The few times I Am Woman truly becomes interesting is when Helen stands up for herself in the midst of a press interview and when she doesn’t let Jeff off the hook regarding the launch of her career (he was her manager, after all and he got too comfortable doing nothing to help). These are the moments when Helen’s personality truly shines throughout all the monotony and we can see the woman she was and the feathers she ruffled in her insistence on being seen and heard in a male-dominated industry.
As Helen’s confidence grows, her performances evolve into what should be meaningful, empowering numbers. However, the scenes could’ve been intercut with others to strengthen her rise to the top of the charts and her story, as well as to properly escalate the tension. Rather, these moments are less powerful because of the lack of character development elsewhere.
I Am Woman suffers by being too clinical of a biopic. Reddy’s beliefs and career went hand-in-hand with the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment and it would have strengthened the narrative if the film had been more passionate and willing to shake the table as much as the movement itself did. The film had a lot of potential, but lacks a distinct vision to deliver on the strong themes it purports to stand for. Ultimately, Reddy’s life is laid out like a bullet-point list instead of an intricate character study and that surface-level storytelling leaves a lot to be desired.