On paper, Mary could be just another millennial protagonist. Entitled, narcissistic and bound for self-destruction, she’s cut from the same cloth as countless hopeless cases churned out by indie movies and HBO TV shows. But with Darren Thornton’s A Date for Mad Mary, audiences are finally treated to a twenty-something character with depth and credibility.
For one, Mary’s got real problems on her hands. We meet her as she leaves prison, picked up by a mother who refuses to grow up, and taken back home to the unshakable ‘mad’ reputation she left behind. It was her emotional volatility that landed her in prison for a nightclub assault, and we soon learn that its not a prison record, but her ignorance to her own destructive nature that’s holding Mary back. The audience watches, rooting for her, but never quite knowing when she’ll send the house of cards flying. If this was all the story had to offer, this could so easily be a film lamenting prison reform, one that’s got us feeling sorry for Mary. But the experience at the heart of this film is much more a universal one.
Because Mary’s biggest problem is that during her time away, life has moved on without her. Those close to her are clocking up life milestones, and she’s jumping in where she left off, playing maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding. Mary’s reputation means that no one expected her to find a date, and now with something to prove, she’s spurred into action to impress the best friend she knows she’s losing. The results are not only heartwarming, but humourous too, and mad Mary has our empathy the whole way.
Seana Kerslake is the star of this story, and brings to the character a naivety that hooks us and a fearlessness that assures us she’s going to make it. The fun is not knowing what she’s going to do in between. Labeled as the Irish Scarlet Johansson, the tag seems a bit muted for Kerslake, who resembles the actress only in looks. For performance and potential on screen, it would be better to look to Jennifer Lawrence but even this comparison falls short of the range Kerslake has given us as Mary.
It’s a testament to the skill of writers Colin and Darren Thornton, to adapt such a realistic female character for the screen, but their flair for such writing finds a weakness in Jess. The pixie dream girl creeps in almost unnoticed and while Tara Lee gives a great performance, it is her unwavering patience with Mary that leaves this particular relationship feeling a little flat. Still, it’s a marvel that Thornton could bring so much life to the women that carry the story, Charlie and Mary, and it’s ultimately their friendship that steals the limelight.
If you’ve seen Thornton’s acclaimed short Frankie, you know you’re in for a treat with this feature length. He’s crafted a hero who’s not your typical millennial, and has captured the experience of the twenty-something growing up that so many have failed to do before him.