A Date for Mad Mary

by Toby Woollaston

adfmmNot since Muriel’s Wedding have marital concerns felt so amusingly raw and honest in this adaptation from Yasmine Akram’s play “10 Dates with Mad Mary”.  A small independent film from Ireland, A Date for Mad Mary first screened at the NZIFF last month and now, thankfully, gets its theatrical release. Darren Thornton’s first feature in the director’s chair has delivered on the play that he and his brother directed for the stage. It is a charming coming-of-age story that is sparingly humorous, often melancholic, but always engaging and proves that Ireland can offer more than the John Carney (Once, Sing Street) brand of dramedies.

Mary has just been released from prison, as her troubled background of drinking and goofing around resulted in six months jail time for a violent pub brawl. Alienated from her social circle, Mary accepts the maid-of-honour responsibility from her soon-to-be-wed best friend Charlene (Charleigh Bailey), but discovers it’s not so easy to find a date for the wedding. Her lack of focus and motivation to get her life back on track doesn’t help matters and cracks begin to appear in their friendship. When she strikes up a relationship with the wedding photographer Jess (Tara Lee), it awakens amorous sensibilities in her that she hadn’t previously considered.

Although billed as a comedy/drama the film is sparse on the laughs, missing golden opportunities to take advantage of humorous situations.  However, Thornton’s decision to gravitate toward the serious side does not go without its rewards. Talented cinematographer Bratt Birkeland’s restrained camera-work never feels overbearing and maintains the film’s character study with pin-sharp clarity throughout. Filling the frame for the lions share of the film is Seána Kerslake, whose performance as Mary holds the film together and expresses a decidedly human side to her character. Kerslake’s gift for the close-up exhibits a rare subtlety of expression that is wonderfully captured.

Although A Date for Mad Mary doesn’t break any new ground, it exhibits a confidently assured (if slightly thorny) approach to its subject matter and despite hitting many familiar beats, its rhythm is impeccably in-time. 

See my review in the NZ Herald here.