The “Best Film” winner at the 2017 Irish Film & Television Awards will open the 8th annual Toronto Irish Film Festival with a gala presentation. A Date for Mad Mary (2016), directed by Darren Thornton, is an Irish comedy drama.
It’s the story of Mary, a complex character not easily readable with a volatile temper easily triggered by events. When rubbed the wrong way, she lashes out demonstrating a lack of insight and impulse control. We meet Mary on the date of her release from Mountjoy Prison composing her thoughts about her best friend Charlene (Char) in her prison cell. Mary is eager to reconnect with her best friend, and rekindle the good old times but Char has changed. She’s getting married, and Mary has agreed to act as her Maid of Honour but things get out of hand and out of control when Char insists she bring a date for her big event.
Mary embarks on a series of blind dates that are downright hilarious and in the process stumbles into a romantic relationship with Jess who is helping her to find a date for the big event. The plot revolves around Mary’s relationships with Char, Jess, and her mother.
The acting is phenomenal and makes the film. Seana Kerslake plays Mad Mary, and gives a stellar performance infusing her character with authenticity and gravitas. She radiates a remarkable combination of charm, wit, vulnerability, and aggression. Kerslake’s acting grabs your attention, and you want to find out what makes Mary tick. Kerslake reminds me of Toni Collette in her break out role in Muriel’s Wedding. Tara Lee plays Jess, the cool, sophisticated, multi-talented artist who falls for Mary. Charleigh Bailey plays Charlene (Char), Mary’s best friend who has moved on with her life, and Denise McCormack plays Mary’s devoted and hot to trot mama.
The juxtaposition of Mary’s outbursts, her attempts to find a date for the big event, her re-integration into civilian life, and dealing with the ever changing relationships with Char, Jess, and her mom create the dramatic tension that move the narrative. Some of the funniest scenes in the film include not only her dating experiences but when she registers for a dating service, and when Jess videotapes her doing a rehearsal of her Maid of Honour speech. Some of the most powerful scenes in the film include the painfully awkward moment when she comes face to face with her victim, and her confrontation with Char over the Maid of Honour speech. Some of the most poignant scenes include Char and Mary dancing at the wedding, and their subsequent goodbye when they both realize they can never go back to the way they were. In a sense, A Date for Mad Mary, can be classified as a coming of age film as Mary evolves and matures in the process.
Thornton weaves together many visual elements to create an insightful film. Close ups and medium angle shots are interspersed with wide angle shots of Mary and the supporting cast. Mary’s backstory is hinted when we see her walking alone across the greens, and when lying on her bed reaching out to Char by telephone, and the use of voice-over, super-imposed on some scenes, to portray Mary’s relationship with Char.
A Date for Mad Mary is a gem of a film, a labour of love, which will make you cry, cringe, laugh, and leap for joy. It’s a beautifully well-crafted, well-written, and acted film that is worth your time and money. Do see it for you won’t be disappointed.
A Date for Mad Mary will open the TIRFF Gala on Friday, March 2 at 7pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tickets can be purchased here