Vying for the BFI LFF First Feature Competition is A Date for Mad Mary from director Darren Thornton, co-written with his brother Colin Thornton, present the story of twenty something Mary McArdle (Seána Kerslake) dubbed Mad Mary, just released from six-month jaunt in prison in the town of Drogheda Ireland. The director’s choice of grey and grainy imagery presents a location that offers little inspiration. Staying with her mother and grandmother, their tact for one another is sharp and at times brutal, each other’s lack of a male partner representing a future that looks like Mary is destined for loneliness. The only figure Mary clings on to is best friend Charlene, weeks away from being married. It doesn’t take long to establish that Charlene’s feelings, or a friendship that once was are yester years, and the blunt and aggressive Mary is kept at a distance, all be it she remains as the bride of honour.
Motivated by jealousy by not being offered a plus one, Mary lies she has a boyfriend to Charlene and thus forays into continuous dating disasters to find someone to be a plus one. Cue a series of bad dates of mismatches but reflection of Mary’s ineptitude to flirt, compromise or show any depth. The only person she does show interest is in Jess, the hired wedding videographer, who strike a somewhat unconvincing friendship motivated by a coincidence of bumping into each other and being underwhelmed by dating men.
It does not take long to establish that A Date For Mad Mary is a predictable affair that lacks subtlety. Tonally, it’s unclear what the director really wants to achieve, dramatically it is underwhelming that rarely threatens to cross any boundaries with it’s central character having some deep lying problems that are somewhat unexplored bar one scene exemplifying guilt. With exception for her dry sarcastic tone, there are very little redeemable or likable qualities to stay with the central character. The comical elements at times lift the piece but are too far and between to save it accompanied by performances that are tame at best, Tara Lee’s (Jess) natural Scottish accent often creeps through. As a first time feature, it’s telling that Darren Thornton still thinks like a short filmmaker via his choice of spontaneous upbeat jungles and choice of framed shots that feel formulaic rather than inspired, which are inconsistent with the piece as a whole. There are some obvious influences from Ken Loach, but unlike Loach, has failed to create any real substance in the characters as being three dimensional. Unfortunately A Date For Mad Mary feels like a film not knowing what it quite is or what the director has to offer.