Now this is how you do it: a highly effective, low-key, brilliantly-acted drama that delivers a well-told tale in less than ninety minutes, and that leaves you wanting more.
A Date for Mad Mary is adapted from a play by Yasmine Akram. Screenwriters Colin and Darren Thornton have taken the premise of a romantic comedy (poor foolish Mary is in need of a date for her best friend’s upcoming wedding) and fashioned a bittersweet drama about friendship, first love and growing up.
Darren Thornton also directs, and this is an assured first feature film: confident, occasionally breezy, sometimes visually very interesting, and managing to avoid falling into cliche (despite the presence of that stalwart of romantic comedies, the disastrous dates montage).
What sets the film apart from similar fare is Mary’s character. She is a violent offender, newly released from Mountjoy Prison, and eager to reconnect with her best mate, Charlene. Mary’s only been away for a few months, but all has changed in their relationship.
The poised Charlene is eager to grow up and move on with her life, but troublemaker Mary still clings to the old ways, which mostly involve tins of Bulmers and going on the tear. The cracks in their friendship grow deeper as Mary wonders why Charlene never seems to want to hang out. By chance, though, Mary makes a new friend, Jess, who is everything Mary isn’t: confident, successful, very cool – look, for instance, at how differently the two women dress.
Thornton uses several narrative tricks to tell Mary’s story (it’s well into the film before we learn why she had been in prison) and there’s a neat voiceover device involving snippets from the speech Mary plans to give at Charlene’s wedding.
A Date for Mad Mary features an astonishing, star-making performance from Seána Kerslake, a mixture of confused hooligan and vulnerable girl. She’s in every scene and she commands the screen. Equally effective are Tara Lee as Jess and Charleigh Bailey as Charlene.
Verdict: Four Cans of Cider out of Five