Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 28, 2017 8:04 pm 
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A feisty original from Ireland

Mary's just released from six months served at Montjoy prison for assault in time for the wedding of her best Charlene (Charleigh Bailey) in which she's to be the maid of honor, notwithstanding. The young woman from Drogheda, north of Dublin, with a hard voice and soft face, comes on screen an irascible sourpuss if one with heart and love to give - to somebody as yet unmet. She says another bridesmaid is fat. "She's lost weight" says her mother. "I'm sure she'll find it again" quips Mary. Donald Clarke in The Irish Times calls Seána Kerslake's performance as Mary "luminous"; but note it's the glow of a hot coal that may burn - herself or others. She can't seem to enter a bar or a dance club without getting 86ed, and she has the bad habit of criticizing everyone she meets. The trouble is, she and Charlene were a wild unruly pair of misfits since they were nine, but the others have moved on and become both grownup and proper, and she has not.

This is a character study with a fine tartness: we warm to Mary but we cannot truly like her, or are afraid to because she's too self-destructive. The film's tidy 82 minutes take only a few days to unreel, the focus on the wedding preparations and Mary's search for the titular date, which she tries to find in defiance because Charlene was discounting her even getting a plus-one. Interviews with a montage of young men display Mary's knack for dismissing people. A very cute guy seems perfect because he needs a date for another wedding in exchange. Turns out he's gay, and the twist that comes is Jess (up-and-coming actress and singer Tara Lee, a lookalike for the early Debbie Harry). Jess is Charlene's choice for wedding videographer, and it takes some persuading by Mary, but the two hit it off, and more: the story turns to coming-out and romance. Threaded through the action, underlining the uneasy pull between present and past for Mary, is her voiceover of a wedding tribute-in-progress to Charlene a mite too frank for the proceedings even when she's toned it down and made it sweet.

A Date for Mad Mary is a vibrant first film by Daren Thornton adapted by him, with his brother Colin, from Yasmine Akram’s play 10 Dates for Mad Mary , which he directed on stage - but there's noting stagey, and the rom-com conventions are transcended by Kerslake's memorable unpredictability in the lead. Tara Lee's charm and naturalness compliment her, and as the uptight, wistful bride Charleigh Bailey provides a key third point in the triangle.

A Date for Mad Mary, 82 mins., debuted at Karlovy July 2016, where Variety's Jessica Kiang wrote it "proves that Sing Street director John Carney does not have the Irish monopoly on highly exportable rite-of-passage dramedies." It also showed at London, Gothenberg, Roze and San Francisco. Theatrical release in Ireland Sept. 2016. Screened for this review as part of the SFIFF.
SFIFF showtimes: April 9, 2017 at 6 pm Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive; April 15 at 7 pm at Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, San Francisco.

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