By Richard Roeper
Signal Contributing Writer
‘I Am Woman’
Quiver Distribution presents a film directed by Unjoo Moon. Written by Emma Jensen. No MPAA rating. Running time: 116 minutes.
Helen Reddy never had the hippie/poet/singer/songwriter cool cred factor of a Joni Mitchell or a Carole King or a Carly Simon in the 1970s. When Alice Cooper affectionately dubbed Reddy “The Queen of Housewife Rock,” she wasn’t offended. She thought it was fitting.
But Helen Reddy was hardly a stereotypical throwback housewife of the “Mad Men” era. When she arrived in New York from Australia in 1966, she was a single mother with a 3-year-old daughter, very little money and years of struggle ahead of her before she would break through with a string of hit singles, including the feminist anthem “I Am Woman,” which to this day carries a powerful and timely message.
Reddy’s story is given the standard, time-honored biopic treatment in “I Am Woman,” which checks off just about every cliche imaginable and yet wins us over, in large part due to the star-power performance of Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Reddy.
Director Unjoo Moon (working from Emma Jensen’s script, which draws on Reddy’s memoirs) is faithful to Reddy’s real-life story, though “I Am Woman” rarely misses the opportunity to eschew subtlety and turn up the corny meter. When Helen and her best friend, rock journalist/gossip columnist Lillian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald), make a pact to stay friends forever, they say, “It’s you and me against the world,” which becomes the title of a Reddy single. Same goes for “That Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady,” which follows scenes of Helen’s volatile husband/manager Jeff Wald (Evan Peters) verbally abusing her and betraying her.
“I Am Woman” kicks off in New York City, where aspiring singer Helen and aspiring talent manager Jeff meet and share dreams together. They eventually take a leap of faith and move to Los Angeles, with Jeff promising Helen he’s gonna make her a star. Fast-forward a bit and we find the manic, back-slapping Jeff devoting all his time and energy to his rock band clients, while Helen is stuck at home as her career stalls out. When Helen finally gets the chance to record a demo, the intended single falls flat, but the B-side, a cover of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” captures the attention of the record label and reaches the Billboard charts. A potential star just might have been born.
In a show-stopping scene, Reddy performs “I Am Woman” for the first time in a small club and destroys the audience. This serves as the launching point for the song to become a massive hit — and more important, a theme for the women’s movement. Director Moon has the confidence in the material to go with a full-length performance number, which has the effect of making us feel we’re in that audience, experiencing something unforgettable. (Props to Chelsea Cullen, who dubbed the vocals.)
“I Am Woman” expertly re-creates touchstone moments of Reddy’s career, from Helen on tour to hosting a TV show to winning the 1973 Grammy for her performance of “I Am Woman” and famously thanking God “because SHE makes everything possible.” The more successful Helen becomes, the more resentful Jeff becomes, and the more they’re at odds — an unhealthy situation made much worse by Jeff’s drug abuse, which turns him paranoid and violent.
Tilda Cobham-Hervey convincingly plays Helen from a young, unknown hopeful to a chart-topping star to an artist at a certain point in her career who accepts her relevancy is behind her — until she performs “I Am Woman” at a women’s rights rally in Washington, D.C. in 1989, and sees how it resonates with a whole new generation. It’s the biopic equivalent of the “touchdown” moment in a sports movie: We fully expect it, we can feel the overt tug on our heartstrings, but we still welcome it.
‘The Broken Hearts Gallery’
TriStar Pictures presents a film written and directed by Natalie Krinsky. Rated PG-13 (for sexual content, some crude references, strong language and drug references). Running time: 108 minutes.
n the 2019 meta charmer “Isn’t It Romantic,” Rebel Wilson’s Natalie is a cynic who despises rom-coms. But after Natalie is knocked unconscious, she awakens in a fantasy world straight out of a romantic comedy, from meet-cutes to our heroine learning what you’ve been looking for your whole life … has been right by your side all long.
Why are we discussing “Isn’t It Romantic” in a review of “The Broken Hearts Gallery?” Well, my fine friend, it’s because the characters in “Gallery” live just around the corner — or more accurately, across the Brooklyn Bridge — from the world of “Romantic.”
“Broken Hearts Gallery” doesn’t employ the conceit of a “Wizard of Oz”-like dream sequence, but it embraces many rom-com staples in equally self-aware fashion, inviting us to leave plausibility at the door and enjoy unabashedly sentimental, escapist comfort viewing from first-time writer-director Natalie Krinsky, who displays a fine ear for witty dialogue, with the characters often sounding as if they’re in a next-generation reboot of “Sex and the City.”
Geraldine Viswanathan, fresh off her scene-stealing turn as the intrepid high school newspaper reporter in “Bad Education,” gives a knockout performance as Lucy Gulliver, a 26-year-old art gallery assistant who tells her roommates, Nadine (Phillipa Soo) and Amanda (Molly Gordon), she’s found true love with Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who’s about a decade older and kind of her mentor and is so grown up he actually cooked her dinner with items from his refrigerator. As Lucy heads off into the day, Nadine says, “She seems so happy.”
Cut to that night, with Lucy looking dazed and devastated after she was dumped by Max and fired from her job in rapid succession. Lucy climbs into the backseat of her Lyft ride and pours her heart out to the driver, who as it turns out isn’t a Lyft driver but a guy named Nick (Dacre Montgomery from “Stranger Things”), who just happened to pull up at the moment Lucy was expecting her ride. (What a cute way for them to meet!)
Even as “The Broken Hearts Gallery” travels down a well-worn path, it retains a certain freshness. The pop culture references are fast and funny, whether it’s Lucy telling a Harvard grad who never stops mentioning she went to Harvard, “Sorry I couldn’t go to an Ivy. I couldn’t pretend to row crew.” Or an art gallery owner played by the one and only Bernadette Peters telling Lucy, “The last time I saw you was like hearing Brad Pitt talk about architecture. It just went on and on and ON.”
“The Broken Hearts Gallery” leans on so many of those Lucy Moments to carry the day, and Geraldine Viswanathan is always up to the task, whether Lucy is literally pratfalling at the worst possible moment, deflecting a situation with a well-timed quip or allowing herself to consider falling in love again, despite a room filled with painful reminders of relationships gone wrong. It’s a sparkling and winning performance from an actor who has already done fine work, but is still in the early stages of a greatly promising career.
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