1966. Helen Reddy arrives in New York with her three-year-old daughter, a suitcase and $230 in her pocket. She had been told she'd won a recording contract, but the record company promptly dashes her hopes by telling her it has enough female stars and suggests she has fun in New York before returning home to Australia. Helen, without a visa, decides to stay in New York anyway and pursue a singing career, struggling to make ends meet and provide for her daughter. There she befriends legendary rock journalist Lillian Roxon, who becomes her closest confident. Lillian inspires her to write and sing the iconic song "I Am Woman" which becomes the anthem for the second wave feminist movement and galvanises a generation of women to fight for change. She also meets Jeff Wald, a young aspiring talent manager who becomes her agent and husband. Jeff helps her get to the top, but he also suffers from a drug addiction, which gradually turns their relationship toxic. Caught in the treadmill of fame ...Written by
This comes off as a Lifetime movie and it's a shame. This biopic of Helen Reddy, one of the biggest names in 1970s music, skates over the politics of the day and concentrates on her marriage to Jeff Wald and her hits songs of the decade. The political climate is definitely in the background.
Reddy comes to New York from Australia in 1966 to be a singer. She gets work in nightclubs but is going nowhere. She meets and befriends a writer (Lillian Roxon) and a would-be manager(Wald) who guide her career.
Wald powers through the corporate music structure and gets Reddy a music contract. Out of her first album comes a hit song, "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and a minor song "I Am Woman," which gets picked up as an anthem for the women's liberation movement of the time.
From then on Reddy is a star and makes a ton of money. Wald manages a few other acts but has a drug problem. Reddy has a string of hits: "Delta Dawn" "You and Me Against the World," "Angie Baby, "Leave Me Alone," etc. but by the end of the decade, her hits have stopped and she's broke because of the husband and a crooked business manager.
Despite women's empowerment, it's telling that Reddy accepts no responsibility for the money problems and basically drops out of the business. When she returns, she becomes a nostalgia act (no new hits) and the film ends with her singing "I Am Woman" at a women's rally.
The film, directed by a first-time feature director, also swishes by Reddy's songwriting, implying she wrote "I Am Woman." She wrote the lyrics only. The song was written and arranged by Ray Burton. There's no other mention of Reddy as a songwriter or lyricist.
Ultimately, we get a look at a talented singer whose career was created and then possibly ruined by her husband. It's typical of this Lifetime style of movie-making that while the husband is outed for his excesses (and yes Wald was no angel), that the woman/wife is presented as a wide-eyed innocent.
In the long run, it presents Helen Reddy as a major singer of an era that also included Karen Carpenter, Carole King, Anne Murray, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler.... but we don't know any more about her as we do them.
Oh yes, and the Helen Reddy vocals are provided by Chelsea Cullen.
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