As it opens, a young woman named Mary (Seana Kerslake) is released from a correctional facility after a six month stint — just in time for her to be the maid of honor at the wedding of her best friend Charlene (Charleigh Bailey).
This starting point branches out into a few related story threads as Mary has a hard time re-adjusting to life on the outside once the consequences of her past deeds start to face her (as opposed to the other way around since it takes Mary awhile to face them herself). These consequences include a somewhat tenuous relationship with Charlene that continues to fray throughout the film as Charlene is moving ahead in her life while Mary is stuck in hers.
Mary also needs/wants to find a plus-one for Charlene’s wedding. After being turned down by an acquaintance, she joins a dating service that in a very funny sequence (at least to the audience) sends her on several bad dates.
Then, as part of her duties as maid of honor, Mary meets with Jess, the wedding photographer (Tara Lee), to pay a deposit. It is through a surprising and unexpected romantic relationship that develops with Jess (as well as an argument with Charlene the day before the wedding) that Mary ultimately comes to some startling realizations about herself (she is uncomfortable around men) and her behavior (she keeps hurting people but doesn’t know why).
Of the films I saw at Outfest, A Date for Mad Mary was one of my favorites. The perfectly cast Kerslake takes an occasionally unappealing character and makes us want to give her the same recurrent chances as the other characters in the film. And there are some delightfully unexpected moments – largely stemming from Mary’s penchant for jeopardizing or even ruining whatever good things come her way. This is first seen while on a very promising date with a potential plus-one and also more crucially with Jess later in the film. Because Mary is happening to these situations as opposed to these situations happening to Mary, we’re better able to go along with these moments as opposed to being taken along by the plot in order to service such moments.
A Date for Mad Mary also handles the development of the same-sex relationship between Mary and Jess very organically. The film wasn’t about Mary discovering she was a lesbian, coming out of the closet as such and then finding a girlfriend. So we’re not spending the film waiting for these things to happen and the film doesn’t have to force them to happen in order to meet the needs of the plot. Instead, Mary simply finds that she connects with Jess on a much deeper level than she ever had with any man. We see that in their first kiss. We see that as Mary processes their first night together. That Jess is a woman is ultimately secondary. And because we’re witness to this, this development doesn’t come out of left field – allowing the film to explore this relationship without having to make any specific point about it.
A lesser, more formulaic film would have gone for the happy ending regardless of whether or not the leading character deserved it (which, at the point the film ended, she didn’t quite yet) or if the story earned it just because that’s what the writers think the audience wants to see (which it did and I did, but the film had more respect for its audience than that).
Instead, the happy ending for Mary here was in finally realizing her part in her situation so that she can make the requisite changes and eventually have that happy ending that she wasn’t quite yet ready for. And the film is better for not having gone for it – leaving the character of Mary with some work to do before she can actually have it, which is a far more satisfying conclusion to this film.
A Date for Mad Mary is the first feature by writer/director Darren Thornton (who co-writes with Colin Thornton) and is an excellent debut.