Clare Dunne builds a house and a reputation for herself.
Being of Irish decent, I recently criticized “Wild Mountain Thyme” for having Christopher Walken use a lame accent and for providing a tipsy love story. But just now, I’ve come across “Herself,” a drama, which unlike that film, has a vivid lead, whom you can relate to. Clare Dune (“Spider-Man: Far From Home”) writes herself as a mother, who never succumbs to the poor mother formula, and rises to the occasion. This is the first time I’ve heard of her name, and she delivers on the script and character.
The story is set in Ireland, and introduces us to the mother Sandra and her two little girls Molly (Molly McCann) and Emma (Ruby Rose O’Hara), all of whom escape the clutches of her abusive husband (Ian Lloyd Anderson). She struggles to find a home for them, until she comes up with an idea of building them a home of their own. How often do we get single mother movies about building homes. I mean we’ve see them live in motel rooms like in “The Florida Project” or clean homes like in “Spanglish,” but not much on the house building plot.
Her two jobs are working in a local pub, and cleaning for an old woman named Peggy (Harriet Walter), who inadvertently finds out about her home-building plan. She decides to help Sandra by giving her land to build her house on. She must keep her a plan a secret from her ex, but manages to get some help from various people. They’re not as drawn out as either Sandra or Peggy, but I acknowledge this movie isn’t about them; it’s about the single mom.
Throughout this movie, Sandra becomes haunted by her ex stomping on her hand, and her youngest Molly witnesses the attack, which prevents her from visiting her father. For the record, the prick did nothing to Sandra’s eye. That’s just the actress’ birthmark. And eventually, we get to a courtroom scene, regarding the custody of the two girls and the house project. The guy claims to be getting help, but we can tell that’s a bunch of bull.
“Herself” is the first film Phyllida Lloyd has directed since “The Iron Lady,” and she reunites with Dune from the all-female version of “Shakespeare’s Henry IV.” Yes, it provides some formulaic moments and the scene when one of her girls injures herself after Sandra was pulling some nails from the wood wasn’t as gripping as when Dustin Hoffman’s boy got hurt in “Kramer vs. Kramer.”
But mostly, you sympathize the girls and their environments. They deal with the outcome of Sandra’s abuse, and they do their best to move forward in their lives. Dunne ignites the screen with a strong sense of courage and passion, and Walter delivers some sentimental value as the old lady.
The movie offers some high spirits, when we see the girls having fun (Sia’s “Chandelier” being their favorite song), and making friends with the people helping her build get house. You can sense they never lose faith during those moments. A surprise happens later in the film, and since I’m the nice critic, I won’t spoil it for you. But if you do see this, and I suggest you do, come and talk to me about it. And I believe we’ll be seeing Dunne again, because of how well she plays the lead and holds our attention throughout.
Now Playing in Select Theaters
Streaming on Amazon Prime This Friday