(director: Phyllida Lloyd; screenwriters: Malcolm Campbell, Clare Dunne, story by Clare Dunne,  cinematographer: Tom Comerford; editor: Rebecca Lloyd; music: Natalie Holt; cast: Clare Dunne (Sandra), Harriet Walter (Peggy), Molly McCann (Molly), Ruby Rose O’Hara (Emma), Conleth Hill (Aido Deveney), Cathy Belton (Jo), Rebecca O’Mara (Grainne), Ericka Roe (Amy), Ian Lloyd Anderson (Gary), Sean Duggan (Ciaran Crowley), Aaron Lockhart (Tomo), Anita Petry (Rosa); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Rory Gilmartin, Ed Guiney, Sharon Horgan; Amazon Studios; 2020-Ireland/UK)

Has too many contrived, predictable, awkward and clunky moments, as it cries out for reform over the divorce courts.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The born in Bristol, England, opera director and stage director of a few all-female Shakespeare plays, the women’s pic filmmaker, Phyllida Lloyd (“Mamma Mia!”/”The Iron Lady”), sensitively directs this bittersweet domestic Irish indie drama about marital woes from a women’s side. The inspirational film is co-written by the star, Clare Dunne, from her story, and Malcolm Campbell, and is based on Dunne’s novel. The impassioned feel-good film was well-received at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It’s noted for the superb performance of Clare Dunne, as the likable victimized woman going through an ugly divorce.

Sandra (Clare Dunne) is a headstrong and financially strapped single-mother of two adorable young girls (Molly McCann & Ruby Rose O’Hara), who separates from her abusive husband Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson) after he brutally batters her one day. Still suffering from the pains of the toxic relationship, while going through a court fight, she lives with her kids in a dumpy Dublin hotel that was obtained for her by the housing department social worker Jo (Cathy Belton). She receives welfare while working two low-paid jobs, which is still hardly enough to get by on. Influenced by a children’s story in one of her daughter’s books, she decides she will try and build her own house. Her building plans for the house are gotten online from an architect. Her wealthy invalid doctor friend Peggy (Harriet), who
m she’s a house cleaner for, gives her money for building materials and a tract of land behind her house to build on. The building contractor, Aido (Conleth Hill), whom she also cleans for, volunteers on weekends to supervise her unprofessional friends who are volunteering to construct the house from scratch.

Not trusting the mean-spirited Gary, who is demanding visitation rights, which frightens her girls, Sandra tries to hide her building project from him. The system’s bureaucracy, in the form of a lady judge, is of little help to the victimized family and rules against her in this tense situation.

The story has too many contrived, predictable, awkward and clunky moments, as it cries out for reform over the divorce courts. Though the middling film delivers a few powerful moments, the material seems too familiar, too forgettable and too melodramatic to get the heart ticking faster for this earnest social conscious film.

dunne, o'hara and mccann

REVIEWED ON 12/25/2020  GRADE: B-