A Date for Mad Mary (2016), shown at the Mardi Gras Film Festival this year, is a beautiful, dark, coming-of-age comedy about a young Irish girl just out of prison and determined to restore a lost friendship. The characters are three-dimensional, occasionally unlikeable, but undeniably real. It is not often a movie can make you genuinely laugh, and at other moments, move you to tears. The movie was presented by Queer Screen, at the National Film and Sound Archive in their intimate and beautiful Arc cinema.
The film opens with Mary’s release from prison, after six months of incarceration, as she is suddenly confronted with her old life. To Mary’s surprise, things have changed. Her best friend Charlene is getting married, her favourite club won’t let her in the door, and her disinterest in finding a boyfriend is beginning to raise suspicion. Saddled with the work, but not feeling any warmth as maid of honour, Mary is confronted with her changing role in Charlene’s life and decides to take action to avoid it. This film is a portrait of the experience of growing up and growing apart from important people in your life, a very poignant and relevant experience to many people in their twenties. Mary acts as we all would, refuses to let go, and pledges to find a date for the wedding in the hope that Charlene will regain interest in her life. Some very funny dating montages and drunken mistakes later, Mary is coming to terms with having genuine, unplanned feelings for a woman.
While coming of age lesbian films have been done before – and often badly (Bloomington or Lost and Delirious anyone?) – this story feels distinctively new and fresh. The storyline is original, Mary doesn’t die, and it’s not all about falling for the best friend or forbidden love designed for the male gaze. This movie is complex and subtle without taking itself too seriously. It leaves you wanting to discuss the characters and events: why did she do that? Why was she crying in that scene? Why would Charlene say that to her best friend? These questions that serve to build upon the film after it has stopped rolling, as provocative and important stories aim to do.
Particularly outstanding in this film was the dialogue, written in a way that felt uncomfortably realistic. Confessions of love made over voicemail won’t be Hollywood scripted or won’t ‘win you back the girl’ in the real world; they are more likely to be drunk ramblings that make little sense. Mad Mary’s dialogue shows this reality and more. The awkward lines make the characters feel familiar, mirroring lived experiences rather than portraying some glossy and out of reach form of the every day. I am so grateful that in this post-Moonlight age, queer movies can be fantastic films, not just desperate grasps for representation. A Date for Mad Mary fits this bill, immersing the viewer in Mary’s hot-headed and self-conscious world whilst presenting a piece of beautifully filmed and acted cinema.