Herself (2020) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Starting over with building a house

“Herself” is a small but genuine human drama shining with compassion and kindness. As calmly but sensitively observing one ordinary woman’s difficult situation and how hard she struggles to take care of it along with many others around her, the movie gives us a series of seemingly plain but undeniably powerful moments, and we find ourselves touched a lot by a little glimpse of hope at the end of the story.

Clare Dunne, an Irish actress who writes the screenplay along with Malcolm Campbell, plays the heroine of the film, and the movie begins with a sweet and playful moment between her character and her character’s two little daughters in their home, which is soon disrupted by the appearance of her violently abusive husband. He is quite furious to find that his wife has been saving some money which is apparently for leaving him along with their kids someday, and, once she has her daughters go outside, this bastard begins to beat and insult her without any hesitation.

Fortunately, because she indirectly instructed one of her daughters to ask others to call the police in advance, her husband is eventually arrested for domestic violence, and now she is looking for a new house to live along with her daughters, but she soon gets frustrated with how she is not helped that much by the system which is supposed to support abused women like her. While she and her two daughters are temporarily staying in a local hotel, she applies for a new house, but, despite some sincere help from a caring social worker assigned to her case, it looks like she will have to wait a lot for getting a new house, and she has no choice but to do two part-time jobs everyday for keeping herself and her two daughters afloat for now. In addition, her husband, who somehow got released later, is allowed to spend some time with their two kids every weekend, and her mind is always trembled by the memory of that traumatic moment whenever she has to face this bastard.

And then there comes a little idea to our heroine when she happens to watch an online video clip about how to build a house for oneself. Although she does not have any experience with building a house, she begins to consider this seemingly plausible option more because it looks like all she needs is a bunch of essential materials and, of course, any spot suitable for building her house.

Not so surprisingly, she is soon reminded again of her inexperience as well as her lack of skills. For example, she attempts to check out whether she can get those necessary materials from a local hardware store, but she belatedly comes to learn that she actually needs much more than she thought at first. In case of the funding for building her house, she fails to get any substantial support from the city government, and she still does not have any nice spot where she can build it.

However, she subsequently receives the unexpected kindness of several people around her. An old female doctor, for whom our heroine works as a cleaner like her mother did before, willingly provides the fund for building the house, and she even gives a small abandoned field outside her house. In case of a seasoned middle-aged professional whom our heroine came across before, he is initially reluctant, but he is eventually persuaded by her desperate plea, and he ends up doing more than giving her a number of helpful advices. When it is apparent that they do need more people to help, she actively seeks for help here and there, and, what do you know, several folks in the neighborhood actually show up for giving her any possible help.

I have no idea on whether the following construction process depicted in the film is realistic or not, but it looks pretty convincing as far as I can see. Yes, there are some mistakes and obstacles to be handled, but everything mostly goes steadily for our heroine and her new friends, and she becomes a bit more optimistic than before, while her daughters are certainly excited to see their new place being built step by step.

Of course, the mood becomes rather melodramatic later in the story due to her husband’s nasty attempt to take her daughters away from her, but the movie continues to maintain its calm attitude while firmly anchored by Dunne’s unadorned but undeniably strong lead performance. While empathizing a lot with its heroine as well as her two daughters who also have to cope with their ongoing domestic problem in one way or another, the movie also observes its various supporting characters with considerable care and attention, and it even shows some understanding on its villain, whose relationship with his father clearly conveys to us that vicious cycle of domestic violence.

The supporting cast members surrounding Dunne in the film are equally solid on the whole. While young performers Molly McCann and Ruby Rose O’Hara are believable in their several crucial scenes with Dunne, Harriet Walter, Conleth Hill, and Cathy Belton often touch us with their characters’ decency and compassion, and Ian Lloyd Anderson brings some tension to the screen as effectively delivering his hateful character’s subtle menace and threat.

On the whole, “Herself” is a precious little film which does deserve more audiences, and its poignant tale of resilience and healing has grown on me since I watched at last night. Although it is relatively modest compared to director Phyllida Lloyd’s previous films “Mamma Mia!” (2008) and “The Iron Lady” (2011), it is much better in many aspects, and it is surely one of the small gems I saw during this year.

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