Rick Keene Music Scene – A Review of The Helen Reddy Biopic; ‘I Am Woman’

Biopics are hit and miss.

Bohemian Rhapsody – the Queen Inc. biopic depicting the life and times of the band Queen and it’s front-man Freddie Mercury; a sullied misrepresentation of music history and the memory of the late Mercury himself. Smoke and mirrors should never overshadow smoke and mirrors with smoke and mirrors.

With trepidation – a viewing of the Helen Reddy film ‘ I Am Woman’ on the heels of Reddy’s recent passing, a must for any music fan. A must for any fan of equal rights among people regardless of race, gender or color.

Anyone who was around in the mid seventies throughout the first half of the eighties knows Helen Reddy. There were times when the Australian – born singer was on every talk show in America. She was the first Australian woman to have a hit song on the U.S. charts and was also the first ‘Aussie’ to have an American TV show. Depending on your age (sex) – Reddy was either a celebrity, a singer or an activist. Depending on your intellect – Reddy was all three , a single Mom, wife and Mother again.

Helen Reddy

Helen Reddy – like far too many who ride the fame vehicle, end up victims of the very reason they seek out their dreams. Reaching the pinnacle of success has broken rungs and one misstep can lead to a great fall. In Reddy’s case, her husband and manager was her one misstep. Jeff Wald (played by Evan Peters in the film) was strong enough to provide a great assent for seemingly the right reasons. His weaknesses seeking credibility, fame for himself and cocaine – the wrong reasons.

Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Reddy

The story of Reddy ( played by Tilda Cobham-Hervey ) is a single Mom (daughter Traci in tow) arriving in New York after winning a singing contest in Australia under the guise of getting a record contract. Upon discovering ‘Boy Bands’ and ‘Rock n Roll’ were the flavor of the moment, Reddy is left to fend for herself and her daughter as a singer in piano and dive bars. Her future leaning toward a return to Australia for the sake of her daughter.

Molly Broadstock Traci Reddy

Two people entered Reddy’s life at this point. A pair as different as Apples and Oranges.

Lilian Roxon was the friend, the mentor and the muse. The lifelong crutch whose strength and courage as a woman in a male dominated world was instrumental in Reddy’s decision to stay the course and not return to Australia. To show daughter Traci that a woman who follows her dreams is the best role model Reddy could be.

Danielle Macdonald as Lilian Roxon.

Jeff Wald took Reddy away from New York and Roxon. As manager and lover – Wald was anxious to make a name for himself in the entertainment world and to make Reddy a star. The film makes it clear from the beginning, Reddy was a naive easy going person who was a gentle soul. Wald – the thing she needed in her life. Arrogance, connections and money. A relationship built on pushes and pulls and plenty of Wald – initiated fights. Reddy’s quiet but strong ego trampled at times by Wald’s maniacal approach. Reddy’s convictions hemming her eventual success and calming the pre- cocaine rants of Wald.

Wald and Reddy

Through talent and timing – Reddy’s career took off with the song ‘I Am Woman’. Song requests and record sales sped up with help from the growing women’s movement in the U.S and the world. Art imitated life as Reddy became a voice (through song) for millions of women around the world. Reddy’s story of strength and courage within her own world was what the woman’s movement was all about. A script writer could not have done better.

There is no doubt that Reddy’s story is special. A tale of not giving up in the music world and not giving in to a male dominated society. The song to this day, an unofficial anthem to Equal Rights and the women’s movement. What is in doubt is whether Helen Reddy would have had a singing career if not for the timing of the song ‘I Am Woman’.

Based on Reddy’s strength to overcome the collapse of her finances (Wald’s cocaine addiction) and her subsequent second career as a clinical hypnotherapist, it is safe to say – Reddy would have been a singing star regardless of I Am Woman.

Helen Reddy – 25 October 1941 – 29 September 2020

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