A Date for Mad Mary – movie review

by Peter Calder / 14 August, 2017
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A Date for Mad Mary.

In this beautifully crafted film, an ex-con needs to find a partner for a wedding.

Fresh from its festival screenings, this unassuming but winning Irish film relies for its considerable appeal on the irresistible performance of Seána Kerslake in the title role of a young woman who remains improbably charming while being pissed off at pretty much everything.

In the opening sequence, she’s just out of prison for an unspecified crime (we soon guess it has something to do with her fondness for fighting, which features in YouTube clips with titles such as “Mad Mary Kicks Off”), and it’s to the movie’s credit that we are given the real explanation quietly, in a short scene made more viscerally powerful for its wordlessness.

Anyway, the ungovernably angry Mary is due to be maid of honour at the wedding of her best friend, Charlene, a brittle, self-obsessed beauty who believes in writing the bridal party’s speeches for them. The film’s central conceit (it is adapted from 10 Dates with Mad Mary, a 2010 stage monologue, written and performed by Yasmine Akram) is that she has to find a plus-one to take to the event.

Traces of the film’s stage roots remain in the sparing use of voiceover, but Darren Thornton, who directed the original and co-wrote the meticulous screenplay with his brother Colin, has opened it up from a bleakly profane comedy to the most unpredictable love story, though it would be a crime to let slip more details of that subplot.

Killer lines remain – a standout is Mary’s cider-swilling nan, who dismisses the young woman’s dateability with the line “A f---ing sniper wouldn’t take you out” – but the film, a bit like Mary, never pleads for our attention. It has a deadpan humour about it and it does farce when it’s needed, but Kerslake’s Mary conjures up a character of complexity and texture.

Rich in a sense of place (it was made in rain-soaked Drogheda, between Dublin and the border), A Date for Mad Mary is beautifully crafted, laying small narrative time bombs that go off at crucial moments and constantly subverting the genre’s conventions. There’s a reassuring authenticity about every scene, right to the last perfect moment.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★

This article was first published in the July 15, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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