#LFF 2016: A Date for Mad Mary review

What are the things you need to know about Mary? She's impatient, a bit gobby, angry, confused, passionate and loyal but has a history of rubbing people the wrong way. She's a firecracker who always speaks her mind. Playing in the First Feature Competition at this year's London Film Festival, it's a stellar turn from Seána Kerslake in the leading role of A Date for Mad Mary that makes this Irish drama a worthy contender in its class. A feisty, fearless and endlessly funny debut from Darren Thornton, co-written with his brother, Colin, this story of love and friendship has buckets of charm but plenty of strife to counterpunch the craic.

It's telling that a film which concerns itself with a fight for self-discovery and breaking away from past misdeeds begins with a release. Mary may leave incarceration in the opening moments but for much of the Thorntons' picture she is crippled by insecurity and uncertainty, simply unable to move forward back in the real world. The reason for her time behind bars remains an unspoken elephant in the room, gradually coming into focus as she accepts her past, attempts to stabilise her present and, with some difficulty, look to the future. It's for her best friend's wedding that Mary needs to find herself a date but the Charlene (Charleigh Bailey) she knew before prison has changed, and so has the world around her.

Recollections of happier times fade ever deeper into melancholy but with that acceptance will come the chance to start again. In trainers, baggy Adidas trousers and a denim jacket, Mary isn't what you'd call image-conscious but her middle finger attitude to all those around her is a fractious breath of fresh air. She's true to herself but still isn't sure who that is. Ferocious and fragile in equal measure, Kerslake's performance is tremendous and in moments where anger subsides, her smile is radiant. A series of first dates pass by in a montage of awkward hilarity but it's wedding photographer Jess (Tara Lee) who catches her eye.

The prospect of bringing a girl as her date turns prejudiced, uncaring heads but their relationship provides Mary with an intimacy and peace she cannot find elsewhere, as well as the slightest chance to break a destructive cycle. "Most people think I'm off me rocker," says Mary. She may be a bit mad but she's the kind of girl any man would be lucky to take to a wedding. Let's hope there's more to come from the Brothers Thornton in the not too distant future; their first endeavour is a winner.

The BFI London Film Festival takes place from 5-16 October. Book your tickets at bfi.org.uk/lff.

Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens


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