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Review: Helen Reddy biopic 'I Am Woman' sings familiar tune

Biopic on '70s music star feels like a music movie greatest hits collection

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

She is woman, but the Helen Reddy biopic doesn't roar. 

"I Am Woman" is a mostly by-the-numbers, pedestrian telling of Reddy's story. It takes the tale of one of the biggest acts of the 1970s and reduces her to an episode of VH1's  "Behind the Music." 

Evan Peters and Tilda Cobham-Hervey in "I Am Woman."

Tilda Cobham-Hervey is Reddy, the Australian who came to New York in 1966 to be a star. 

What she found was lecherous record company execs who dismissively called her "sweetheart" and shady promoters who paid her backing band more than her. But when she meets Jeff Wald (Evan Peters), he promises to make her career. "You be the show," he tells her, "I'll be the business." 

And if you have that trite line on your biopic cliché bingo sheet, hopefully you also have "scene where record execs dismiss big hit-to-be," "scene where children are upset that career has taken precedence over home life" and "scene where coked-out manager falls to knees to snort drugs off of carpet." "I Am Woman" hits all of them, and then some. 

What keeps it afloat is Cobham-Hervey's steely performance as Reddy, which never wavers even as Emma Jensen's script plays the familiar tune of so many music movies. And it passes up on big questions of what happened to Reddy's career: why did her career essentially stop in 1983? And why is her legacy largely unknown to today's audiences? 

Perhaps that's what "I Am Woman" sets out to fix. It manages to shine a light on Reddy and her work, beyond "I Am Woman" and the mom-rock image she embodied. But it doesn't dig deep to tell the story of who she was, what drove her and what made her persevere. "I Am Woman" tells the story of the star, but not the woman.

'I Am Woman'

GRADE: C

Not rated: Language, drug use

Running time: 116 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama