His & Hers (review)

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From a girl-infant’s cries as her father puts her down to the laments of elderly women who’ve outlived their husbands, here are 70 women talking about the men in their lives with the kind of casual frankness, bald honesty, and total love that typically gets bypassed on film in favor of empty rom-com fantasies. Here is real-life romantic comedy, as exasperated gradeschoolers complain of being instructed to clean their rooms by dads they adore, as teenagers wonder at the mysteries of first attraction to young men equally as terrified by this new experience, as young wives and mothers talk of learning to adjust to the needs of husbands and small sons, as middle-aged women find themselves caring for aging fathers, as old women rebuild their lives on their own once more as widows, and find new meaning to both their pasts and their futures. Documentarian Ken Wardrop, making his feature debut (and winning numerous festival plaudits, including the Cinematography Award at the Sundance Film Festival 2010), keeps things deceptively simple, just letting the women talk without introduction or context, and yet creating, in the process, a portrait of an archetypal life of the modern woman that allows her as both a fiercely independent, individual person and someone who thrives on relationships with the men she loves. It’s a push-and-pull acknowledgement of the interpersonal density of women’s lives that is usually taken so much for granted that it is all but ignored, never even considered, yet it’s the warmly, powerfully human reality of the half of the population not usually conceded such complexity on film. (And though the 70 women here are Irish, their experiences are universal.) Just seeing women take center stage to talk about themselves feels like a triumph. That His & Hers is also so funny and so engaging is a lovely bonus.

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