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.
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.