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Movie Review: 'Herself' Teaches A Simple, Profound Lesson

You may remember that Mr. Rogers told his young audience that when they saw scary news, they should “look for the helpers.” It was one way to help children have something to grab onto when the world seemed dangerous.

At the very least, for us, it’s a way to remind ourselves that there are people in the world who will help. The crisis faced by Sandra, the Dublin mother at the center of the new movie Herself, is not one that would make the news, but it is one that requires her, in a very real way, to “look for the helpers.”

Sandra escapes her physically abusive ex with her two young daughters, and like many women in this situation, she has essentially nowhere to go and few resources. She works multiple jobs, cleaning houses and bartending, and relies on government assistance to find whatever run down housing she can afford. And then one day she comes across an internet site that promises to teach her how to build her own house for a stunningly low amount of money, and she decides this is her one option.

Even that, though, she can’t afford to do, until one of her cleaning clients offers to give her some land and to loan her the money. And then it occurs to Sandra that, maybe, there are people who want to help. And she does one of the hardest things in the world to do—she starts to ask other people for help.

Sandra discovers what so many of us ought to, which is that there are plenty of decent people in the world who are quite happy to give a hand to those who need it. And this is the simple beauty of Herself, that there’s nothing really extraordinary in what’s happening, though it certainly seems there is. Sandra is not unusually driven or resolute, she just doesn’t see as how she has another choice. And the people who help her aren’t unusually generous, they’re just good people.

Nor does the movie pretend it’s a fairy tale—the scenes of physical abuse are quite difficult, and a major event in the movie reminds us there isn’t a “happily ever after.” But, by then, Sandra and we both know that sometimes you just have to join together, grab a shovel, and get to work.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.