The cliché movie-critic quote is that a film was “a roller-coaster ride!” The sense is that it was full of thrills, fast pacing and sudden turns. Well, the Irish drama Herself is also a roller-coaster ride in that the fortunes of its main character go up, then down, up again, back down, and so on. “It’s a teeter-totter of a movie!” You can quote me on that.
Clare Dunne stars as Sandra, a young wife and mother in an abusive relationship. We find this out in the very first scene, in which her husband brutally attacks her while one of their two young daughters runs to a nearby shop to get someone to call the police.
Soon, Sandra and the girls have moved out and are trying to make a go of a new life. It isn’t easy. She’s juggling menial jobs and picking up the kids from school while trying to find decent, affordable accommodation. Showing up at one apartment, she joins a block-long queue of similarly destitute, desperate moms. She also has to see her husband, who has shared custody. The brief visits usually result in a traumatic flashback to his attack.
Herself is the latest movie from director Phyllida Lloyd, whose film credits (she also works in live theatre) include 2008’s Mamma Mia! and 2011’s The Iron Lady. She’s aided in this one by three writers, one of them the star, Dunne.
Herself is a compelling story, but it does swing back and forth with metronomic regularity. Sandra gets it into her head to build her own house. But the local council won’t approve the plan. Then the woman (Harriet Walter) for whom she works as a cleaner and part-time caregiver offers her a plot of land. Then she runs into problems buying materials. Then a friendly contractor offers to help. Then her husband threatens to sue for sole custody of the kids. And so on.
It’s a little exhausting, but it does generate sympathy for a woman against whom the cards seem to be stacked. Or “against herself,” to use the unique Irish grammatical construction that gives the film its title. And the seesaw nature of the plot will leave you guessing as to where it will ultimately come to rest. Will herself end up high and happy, or land with a thunk?
Herself is available Jan. 8 on Amazon Prime.
3 stars out of 5