Movie Review ~ I Am Woman


The Facts
:

Synopsis: This uplifting biopic tells the story of Helen Reddy, the fiercely ambitious Australian singer behind the 1971 megahit anthem that became the rallying cry of the women’s liberation movement.

Stars: Tilda Cobham-Harvey, Evan Peters, Danielle Macdonald, Chris Parnell, Matty Cardarople, Rita Rani Ahuja, Molly Broadstack

Director: Unjoo Moon

Rated: R

Running Length: 116 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  There’s nothing Hollywood loves more than jumping on a bandwagon so I’m fairly surprised that after the unexpected success of the extremely mediocre Bohemian Rhapsody in 2018 and the emotional satisfaction derived from the superior Elton John biopic Rocketman in 2019 there haven’t been an influx of similar musical biographies.  Before those films arrived, previous efforts at presenting the life stories of legends of the music industry had been spotty and only a select few managed to break past a paint-by-the-numbers approach to a life-story.  What about that long in the planning Dolly Parton film about her journey from the Smokey Mountains to finding fame in Nashville and the film industry?  Then there were the multiple projects at one time in the works set to cover the life of Janis Joplin that couldn’t get off the ground.  Surely, audience reaction to a Queen musical would fuel some further interest in those properties…right?

It’s interesting, then, that the first real film to be released that charts the ascent of a star singer doesn’t even come from Hollywood at all.  Arriving from Down Under, I Am Woman centers on Australian soft-rock vocalist Helen Reddy and how the single mother packed up her daughter and left their life in Melbourne with dreams and determination to make it as a recording artist.  At a time when her style of music wasn’t considered fashionable by executives that didn’t truly know what their market audience was looking for, Reddy hit a nerve in the industry with her #1 song that became the ever-present theme for the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s.

Arriving in New York City in the late 1960s, Helen (Tilda Cobham-Harvey) thinks she’s secured a recording contract after winning a contest back in Australia, only to learn from an oily recording executive that there’s no place for her kind of singing on their roster.  The music of The Beatles was popular and women didn’t sell records, besides, this record company already had their request solo female artist signed so…they couldn’t take on another one.  Reaching out to another NY transplant from her hometown for advice, rock journalist Lillian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald, Paradise Hills), Helen begins singing at low-paying nightclub.

Up until this point, director Unjoo Moon keeps the film coloring inside the lines almost to a fault.  The script from Emma Jensen is jammed with eye-rolling dialogue that intends to tell you the true nature of everyone’s character from their first spoken line.  Helen’s meeting with the music exec is misogynistic to the point of parody as is an exchange between her and the club owner trying to stiff her on her pay.  Everything just feels so stodgy that you want things to loosen up just a tad, I mean, this was the 60s after all.  The relationship between Helen and Lillian proves for interesting interplay between two women that were capable of more than what people expected of them but it’s clear Lillian will be a sideline character quickly after Jeff Wald (Evan Peters, X-Men: Dark Phoenix) enters the picture and sweeps Helen off her feet.

A William Morris agent, at first Wald sends off all the traditional warning bells of an Ike Turner in the making but curiously manages to not follow the path you think he’ll tread.  Though initially challenged by Helen’s tenacity he appears to be someone that doesn’t just love Helen but actually believes in her too…though it takes a while (and a cross-country move) for him to make good on his promise to get her foot in the door with his music connections.  When she finally arrives, buoyed on the success of a hit cover of I Don’t Know How to Love Him and then the blockbuster phenomenon of I Am Woman, her fame comes with the usual gains and losses.  The marriage to Wald is put to the test because of his drug and gambling addiction and her personal relationships with her friends and children are strained when she’s forced into choosing between her life as a performer and her offstage persona.

Objectively speaking, I Am Woman is fairly standard stuff and is akin to a rock skipping across the surface of a very wide and deep lake.  There’s a lot more to the story of Helen Reddy and a much deeper emotional well to mine, that’s for certain, but what’s presented onscreen feels respectful and ultimately an agreeable watch.  It helps immensely that Cobham-Harvey is positively electric as Helen, ably navigating the insecurities hiding behind perceived strength and wrestling with her own feelings of liberation while in a unique situation of her own where she feels at odds with the strong woman she sings about nightly.  Sadly, I was disappointed that she doesn’t do her own singing (Reddy’s vocals are either from her own recordings or recreated by Chelsea Cullen) and at times it shows that she’s just mouthing the words but overall she has Reddy’s mannerisms down.  I liked Peters as well, though his performance begins to slide into a series of sniffs and ticks as Wald’s addictions to drugs intensifies.

In addition to having a near ace-in-the-hole with its leading lady, I Am Woman also boasts cinematography from Memoirs of a Geisha Oscar-winner Dion Beebe (Mary Poppins Returns).  Married to the director, BeeBe gives the film a radiant vibe and the faithfully recreated period production design from Michael Turner (The Great Gatsby) is overall exceptional, same goes for Emily Seresin’s (The Invisible Man) appropriately groovy costumes.  Hearing some of Reddy’s songs is quite nice, especially since Moon lets at least three of them play full out (including I Am Woman twice) but there’s little mention of Reddy’s work outside of the music world, including her film or stage work.  As one of Australia’s most respected performers, it’s right that the still living Reddy should get such a luxe film but I only wish the movie on the whole were quite as detailed as the sets and costumes that surround its star.

Movie Review ~ Becky (2020)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A teenager’s weekend at a lake house with her father takes a turn for the worse when a group of convicts wreaks havoc on their lives.

Stars: Lulu Wilson, Kevin James, Amanda Brugel, Robert Maillet, Joel McHale

Director: Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  When I was in my early 20s, I accompanied my parents on a trip to Las Vegas where we gambled, hit the buffets, and saw some shows.  It being our first time in the city, we did all the things the tourists do and by the time the week was drawing to a close, all my parents wanted to do was to take a night off and relax in the room.  I wanted to see one more Vegas show so I grabbed a last minute ticket to some random extravaganza playing at one of the off-brand hotels.  Sitting in my seat, I couldn’t believe my luck when before the show an announcer came on to tell the audience that going on between acts would be Kevin James!  Wow!  The King of Queens himself!  I waited through the dreary first half only to find out that a) it wasn’t the Kevin James I thought it was and b) this Kevin James was a lousy magician.

You’d understand, then, why I was trepidatious when reading the plot summary of Becky which listed Kevin James as an escaped neo-Nazi prisoner that terrorizes a family.  I mean, surely this time it really wasn’t the same guy, right?  Could the magician have gone into acting or was this really the funnyman known for his comedy turns on television and a string of half-hearted attempts to be a movie star?  Was James making a play for a more hardened character, distancing himself from the silly Adam Sandler umbrella he’s stayed safely under for more than a decade?  Admirably, Becky shows a new side of James but unfortunately for him the performance is part and parcel of such a repugnant film that the effort hardly seems worth noting.

Ever since her beloved mother died, Becky (Lulu Wilson, Annabelle: Creation) has had trouble adjusting to the new normal.  Her father Jeff (Joel McHale, The Happytime Murders) has tried to let his emotional daughter have her space to grieve but he’s decided to take steps to move forward, announcing his engagement to single mother Kayla (Amanda Brugel, Suicide Squad) at the start of what was supposed to be a father-daughter weekend at the family lake house.  Annoyed at the arrival of Kayla and her young son, Becky storms off to her tree fort in the woods…right about the time escaped prisoners Dominick (James, Pixels), Apex (Robert Maillet, Pacific Rim), and a few of their old friends show up on the hunt for an item stashed away.

As the audience, we’ve already seen the extent to which Dominick will go to get his way after his bloody flee from custody and a grisly crime that’s thankfully only hinted at.  He may have met his match, though, because Becky is an easily aggressed powder keg waiting to blow and doesn’t take kindly to the violence she witnesses going on in her home.  Thus begins less of a cat and mouse game but something more akin to two lions circling one another, with each devouring anything less important that gets in their way.  Becky uses her problem solving quick thinking and knowledge of the area to her advantage while Dominick relies on brute force to draw her closer, leading to a blood-soaked showdown.

The movie I’m describing sounds like an appealing and clever home invasion thriller and I bet the script from Nick Morris, Lane Skye and Ruckus Sky had some snap to it when it was originally conceived.  It wouldn’t be hard to sell me on a Home Alone meets survival horror movie but it’s a question of taste that has to be examined.  Under the direction of Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion Becky is about as repulsive an endeavor as you’re likely to see in 2020.  The bad taste on display is so egregious, from violence against animals to violence against children, it’s just absolutely no fun to watch and not even that fun to write about after the fact.  I’ve seen enough of these types of films to know that I don’t need to watch one that involves grown men beating up underage kids and killing pets – is that the kind of entertainment we’ve found ourselves craving and wanting to celebrate as a good time?

Honestly, it doesn’t help matters that Becky herself is awful – rude, dismissive, stubborn, and nihilistic, it goes beyond the typical beleaguered teenager and invites you to not so secretly want to root against her.  There’s the suggestion that maybe Becky has an evil streak in her as well, but no one involved behind the scenes was thoughtful enough to explore that more intriguing side to the character.  You get the feeling Wilson was trying to give her a sinister edge that wasn’t entirely on the page, but it’s largely silenced by Milott and Murnion’s glee for gore.  Instead of finding moments to see deeper within Becky’s psyche, we’re treated to another horrific bit of sleaze, often involving a sharp object and viscera.

Having two comedians (McHale and James) in dramatic leading roles also gives the movie a strange imbalance because there’s a sense of waiting for one of them to break during the deadly serious scenes.  McHale just isn’t cut out for dramatic acting and even his comedic turns are skating on thin ice, at least James does something with his part that feels like some homework was put in.  It’s not a revelatory performance but it’s a fine effort that should be noted and explored in further films down the line.  If the other supporting players offer little in terms of surprise, it’s only because there isn’t much space allotted to them seeing that Becky and Dominick suck up the air from most scenes.  Let’s also not forget that the entire movie hinges on Dominick being after something (I won’t reveal what) that makes precious little sense to anyone but him.  That all these characters should be swept up in the nonsense simply adds to the pointlessness of the whole exercise.

I felt really gross watching Becky and if it was something I’d casually picked out on Netflix, I probably would have turned it off twenty minutes in.  While I like the concept of what the script had laid out, it skewed too young and overly irresponsible for me and that left it feeling vacuous, like an experiment that failed to meet its potential.  It’s bloody and it’s brutal so gorehounds will likely sniff this one out fairly quickly, but will the connoisseurs of revenge thrillers go for a film served up with such foul ingredients?