It’s no surprise that Darren Thornton’s A Date for Mad Mary was joint winner of Best Irish Feature at the Galway Film Fleadh, or that Seána Kerslake lifted the Bingham Ray New Talent Award for her role as Mary. From the very start, it is clear that this is an accomplished film with authenticity and heart at its core. While a coming of age movie, it manages to skilfully avoid the clichés which viewers may have come to expect, offering a new and interesting perspective on the genre.
We first meet Mary McArdle as she returns to her home town of Drogheda, having served six months in prison. Her best friend Charlene, consummately played by Charleigh Bailey, is getting married in three weeks and Mary, as maid of honour, has immediate work to do. This doesn’t simply involve wedding duties; she must renegotiate her place in a seemingly familiar world which appears to have changed irrevocably, particularly in terms of those in it. The most important person to her is bride-to-be Charlene, the change in whom is the most difficult for Mary to understand. No longer interested in the life they once enjoyed, Charlene judges Mary for, among other things, her failure to aspire to or fulfil the same desires as her.
Mary’s role as head bridesmaid is at once an honour, and a stick to beat her with as she appears to embody everything Charlene, and fellow bridesmaid Leona (Siobhan Shanahan), are disdainful of. Her only support comes from mother Suzanne (Denise McCormack). Indeed, Mary is seen as such a disaster by her friend and fellow bridesmaid that she couldn’t possibly need a plus one for the wedding, and she thus sets out to prove them wrong by finding a date.
Her quest is a source of gentle humour, and her subsequent compelling relationship with singer and videographer Jess (Tara Lee) is a joy to watch unfold on foot of its organic and understated development, and the chemistry between the pair.
A Date for Mad Mary is beautifully written, directed, performed and shot. Its power and richness lies in its subtlety and the personal, upfront nature of its narrative. It might have been tempting to utilise the character of Mary to offer something of a social commentary given her particular circumstances, but the focus on the personal and individual is refreshing and allows an intimate relationship to blossom between Mary and the viewer.
The strength of the casting is such that it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in each of the parts. In particular, Seána Kerslake’s performance is strong and measured, and she evokes great sympathy, even at Mary’s worst moments. Charleigh Bailey imbues Charlene with great believability, and there is a palpable truth in every scene they share.
Authenticity and subtlety lend a wonderful simplicity to the film without belying the depth and complexity of its characters and narrative. Honest, human and genuine, A Date with Mad Mary is not one you’ll want to miss.
By Emma Hynes
I reviewed A Date for Mad Mary on behalf of Film Ireland. It appears in cinemas from Friday, 2nd September.