I Am Woman review - Helen Reddy biopic sings flat

The 70s chart-topper, who died recently, deserved so much more than this inert, pointless film

There’s a taste of turkey, or a can of own-brand mechanically reclaimed turkey-substitute, in this moderate TV-movie-style biopic of Helen Reddy, the Australian-born singer who came to the United States and had a string of hit singles in the 1970s, including the feminist anthem I Am Woman. She died recently, and deserved more elegiac attention than she got. Caroline Sullivan’s excellent obituary is here.

Reddy found her voice among the commercial shlock of the day (this film has at one moment a shot of Reddy’s place on the Billboard 100 list, one place behind Chuck Berry’s My Ding-a-Ling).

Tilda Cobham-Hervey gives a bland performance as Reddy; Evan Peters (Quicksilver from the X-Men movies) is hammy and over-the-top as the sweaty manager and husband, Jeff Wald, who snorts all Reddy’s earnings up his nose. Danielle Macdonald adds some zip with her performance as Helen’s friend, pioneering music journalist Lillian Roxon, whose personality seems more interesting than the main character’s here.

The sentiments expressed in the movie are laudable enough, but the cardboard dialogue and cliched storytelling make it a wearisome watch, and Cobham-Harvey’s performance is so opaque and uninflected it feels like a lost item of pop art. When the film shows Reddy performing Angie Baby during her Vegas residency – actually, a rather disturbing song – she just croons earnestly through the track pretty much in its entirety, and there is something so inert, uninterpreted and undramatic in this sequence that the film goes into a trance of pointlessness. Each scene needed a jolt of music or energy that just wasn’t there.

• I Am Woman is in cinemas and on digital platforms.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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