It might have been easy for A Date for Mad Mary to take the easy route: mine the stresses of planning a wedding for some easy laughs, or even mimic Orange is the New Black for some prison-driven black comedy. Instead, newcomer director Darren Thornton has delivered a simultaneously nuanced, weighty and affecting film anchored by confident direction and a spectacular central turn by Seána Kerslake.
Mary is a tour de force, charming her way into your heart even as she’s threatening strangers in toilet queues. Kerslake’s performance is endlessly captivating, and the camera wisely stays close for most of the film, capturing every twitch as Mary wrestles with a life that’s leaving her behind.
While some characters are relegated to wedding cliches – the envious fellow bridesmaid, the brash grandmother – our main characters are refreshingly well rounded. This is especially true of Charleigh Bailey as bride-to-be Charlene, who in the hands of a lesser actress may have simply come across as snide and two-faced. Instead you get the sense Char is as complex and conflicted as Mary is, which makes their relationship all the more convincing.
Kerslake, Bailey and Tara Lee (as new friend Jess) all bring depth and warmth to their roles, and it’s a refreshing moment when the credits roll and you realise the film has failed the male Bechdel test by some margin – Mary, and her relationships with the women in her life, have taken centre stage over any quest to find a date.
A moody score brings the film’s sombre tone together – not that this film isn’t hilarious when it wants to be. A Date for Mad Mary is a great showcase for some of the best talent coming out of the Emerald Isle.
CAST: Seána Kerslake, Tara Lee, Charleigh Bailey
DIRECTOR: Darren Thornton
WRITERS: Colin Thornton, Darren Thornton
SYNOPSIS: ‘Mad’ Mary McArdle returns to Drogheda after a short spell in prison – for something she’d rather forget. Her best friend, Charlene, is about to get married and when Charlene refuses Mary a ‘plus one’ on the grounds that she probably couldn’t find a date, Mary becomes determined to prove her wrong.