A DATE FOR MAD MARY (Ireland/15A/82mins)
Directed by Darren Thornton. Starring Séana Kerslake, Charleigh Bailey, Tara Lee, Denise McCormack, Barbara Brennan.
THE PLOT: After being released from prison, “Mad” Mary (Seána Kerslake) returns to her hometown of Drogheda, expecting to just fit back into her old life. Her best friend Charlene (Charleigh Bailey) is getting married and wants Mary as her maid of honour, but seemingly wants nothing else to do with her. Seeking friendship, Mary begins spending time with Jess (Tara Lee), but without facing her issues, Mary seems doomed to repeat her past mistakes.
THE VERDICT: ‘A Date for Mad Mary’, based on the play ’10 Dates with Mad Mary’ is a small story with a huge heart. Populated with characters the audience knows, the film is funny and endearing, and although the title character is not always very likeable, she is understandable and easy to root for.
Seána Kerslake leads the show here as the titular Mary, and makes the character both angry at the world, and angry at herself for her disgust with life. Kerslake makes the character warm and endearing underneath her protective shell of anger and disgust, and once Mary begins to warm to the newest person in her life, Kerslake really gets to shine, and show the character in all of her flawed glory. Charleigh Bailey makes Charlene the passive aggressive girlie girl we all love to hate, but again, makes the character recognisable if not always kind, and Tara Lee as Jess is a breath of fresh air with these angry and bitter characters at the centre of the film. The rest of the cast features Denise McCormack, Barbara Brennan and Siobhan Shanahan, whose role rests of expressive and often inspired facial expressions, that speak volumes.
Darren Thornton and Colin Thornton’s screenplay allows Seána Kerslake to take centre stage, but is economical in both dialogue and exposition, making great use of the old movie making adage; show, don’t tell. The dialogue feels real, natural and is often peppered with swear words, and although this dramedy is not filled with laughs, the few there are land well. The film is well paced and, as mentioned, tells a small story with a huge heart, there are times when plot points are obvious from a mile away, but this story of love, dating and leaving the past behind is carefully and subtly wrapped up, without clichéd monologues or familiar tropes.
As director, Darren Thornton is never afraid to make Mary a hateful character, but it is in her reactions to confronting both her past and her future that we truly learn about who this person is, and the issues she is struggling to overcome. ‘A Date for Mad Mary’ is well paced and features strong performances, but it really is in the smaller moments that the film excels.
In all, ‘A Date for Mad Mary’ is a film about a small story that manages to be big, all encompassing and familiar in just the right way, Seána Kerslake shines and easily leads the cast in their relatable performances, and although this is not a side of Ireland that international audiences may be familiar with, it is one that will resonate with its humanity, humour and heart.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    A Date For Mad Mary is the feature debut of Darren Thornton. It’s also one of this year’s stand-out Irish films, given that it’s rooted in a multi-layered and keenly observational script, which Thornton co-wrote with his brother Colin.

    Mary (Seana Kerslake) is never far from trouble. She’s just out of The Joy after six months, having assaulted another woman. She heads home to Drogheda to hopefully re-connect with her best mate Charlene (Charleigh Bailey), who is getting married. They’re as thick as thieves, but there’s also a sense that Charlene tolerates Mary’s erratic behaviour. Mary has a habit of putting her foot in it, flying off the handle at the slightest slight and generally being a sourpuss around people. Charlene needs her though, to be one of her maids of honour. But things have changed between Mary and Charlene and there’s friction. Charlene needs her to find a date for the wedding, so Mary goes on a series of dates with various men, with disastrous results. It’s at this point that she strikes up a friendship with wedding photographer Jess (Tara Lee). Then something unexpected happens, which will define Mary and make her want to change – hopefully for the better…

    A Date For Mad Mary is a small, relatively short Irish film at 82 minutes, but the feelings and complexities of the characters speak great volumes which longer films often fail to achieve. The star of the show is really the Thorntons’ script, which takes a character that isn’t immediately likeable and gives her a character arc that is subtle and unforced. Change happens, but not in the most obvious way. My Fair Lady this isn’t. Instead, Mary is a character who is set in her ways and doesn’t know what’s wrong with her. It takes someone else to make her realise that. She’s a complex character that leaps off the page in three dimensions, not like your typical film character at all. She could be the girl next door who is troubled, but is really just looking for her place in the world.

    The script wouldn’t work without great performances and Kerslake rises to the challenge here. She’s developed her talent further since her debut in Kirsten Sheridan’s Dollhouse. It’s an excellent, layered performance that keeps the audience on the right side of Mary. This movie should hopefully push her further into the limelight – not so much the Irish Scarlett Johansson, but the new Saoirse Ronan. The supporting cast are great too, with Bailey and Lee bringing depth to their own framed perspectives on Mary. Thornton’s direction feels honest and not at all saccharine-coated. That’s the measure of a film which is seeking to stand out, not fit in – much like Mary herself. A Date For Mad Mary is fresh, funny, original and buoyed by a great script and lovely performances. You’d be mad to miss it. ****