Ken Wardrop’s debut feature documentary opens with an old Irish proverb: “A man loves his girlfriend the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest”. An exploration of family, relationships, age and gender, His & Hers might be seen as an attempt to address the question, what do women really think of the opposite sex?
Consisting almost entirely of interviews, Wardrop’s film approaches these issues of gender through a vast tapestry of women ranging in age, experience and socio-economic background, all from within the Irish Midlands. Rather than draw assumptions based on a few select subjects, His & Hers is more interested in reaching a broader, universal understanding of the role men and women play in each other’s lives.
The simple and yet carefully organised structure of the documentary is the key to this approach. Arranged by age, the film begins with a series of young girls, proceeds through teenagers, and gradually concludes with the elderly. It’s one of the film’s obvious strengths and Wardrop deserves credit for the way in which supposedly distinct generations of women appear to slide almost imperceptibly from one to the next.
The women’s responses regarding the men in their lives also tend to vary over the course of the film. While the early interviewees refer predominantly to paternal figures (“Daddy says, clean up your room!”), as the subjects get older the topics shift to dating, engagement, marriage, pregnancy, motherhood and towards the end, widowhood and loneliness. While many of the comments are woven together to reflect fairly conventional views of gender (e.g. men as the breadwinner and women as emotional support) there are instances that stand out.
For example, the moment in which one woman describes the death of her father, or another of the effect of a breast cancer scare upon her partner are simple in their retelling but emotionally resonant. Generally however, such sombre confessions are counterbalanced by the wry humour and resilience evident in many of Wardrop’s subjects.
Despite the documentary’s many charms, the style and construction of His & Hers does tend to provoke more questions than it ultimately addresses. For instance, would the women have responded differently to a female director? Has Wardrop considered the implications of filming all of the women within the domestic space of the home while few if any talk about their role outside that as wife, mum or homemaker? What are the views of women who never experienced (either by choice or circumstance) male companionship or motherhood?
These queries would no doubt complicate the neat vision of gender relations that His & Hers presents but given the broadness of the film’s approach, they’re valid nonetheless. If only for the sake of comparison then, I wonder what insights a similar film about women from the male perspective might yield. Would Wardrop consider making Hers & His? Lets hope so.