I Am Woman

Helen Reddy strides into New York City, 1966, where a giant variation of a sexist ad from 1953 is somehow still prominently featured on a subway wall. It’s the single mother’s first foreshadowing that her supposed recording contract with Mercury Records is about to be terminated by a Male Chauvinist Pig who can’t believe she flew all the way from Australia by herself before adding he “can’t do anything with a female singer.”

A desperate Reddy then has to take a job at a Manhattan nightclub to perform songs like “I Will Follow Him” – which had just been a big hit in 1964, but try telling that to Mr. Male Chauvinist Pig. Fortunately, Reddy has one friend in a strangely obese version of real-life pioneering journalist Lillian Roxon, who blithely complains to her old pal that nobody’s writing serious rock criticism in 1966. Reddy later explains to Lillian how it’s just “you and me against the world,” which beats Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher actually writing a song with the same title by seven years.

This is all from the first 15 minutes of I Am Woman. Any good pop-culture geek would have an aneurysm trying to keep count of the idiocies and inaccuracies in the remaining two-hour running time. It’s better to concentrate on how this bizarre biopic finally comes to life when Evan Peters shows up as husband/manager/cokehead Jeff Wald, who gives Tilda Cobham-Hervey something to do in her Lifetime-worthy performance as Reddy.

You’re only at the hour mark when the singer strikes it big with the titular hit – written here by Reddy without Ray Burton because sisters are doing revisionist history for themselves. You’re near the 90-minute mark when the movie tries to convince you that Reddy wrote “You and Me Against the World” as a tribute to the doomed Roxon.

To be fair, this follows plenty of scenes where Reddy strangely keeps being wrong about things (including mocking her husband for signing on to manage Tiny Tim). From there, the film spirals into a classic Poor Little Miss Showbiz tale, with Reddy haunted by Phyllis Schlafly while Wald blows his brain with Bolivian marching powder.

By then, you’re mourning how this whole thing could’ve been a proper Lillian Roxon biopic starring a slimmed-down Rebel Wilson. Even the script seems to lose interest in Reddy by the last half hour, with the story stopping cold for a full performance of “Angie Baby” because director Unjoo Moon probably wandered away from the set.

She might not have returned, either. I Am Woman abruptly revs up and races to the closing credits as a campy extravaganza. Peters seems relieved to bow out with a final coke-crazed bit which could be legendary if this film ever finds an actual audience. Don’t worry about Our Heroine, either. It’s more of a fun selling point than a spoiler that Reddy finally accepts her role as a feminist icon who once gave her housekeeper a box of framed gold records as a lovely parting gift.