My Days Of Mercy is a tender yet harrowing drama that, despite its serious subject matter, works through tired tropes of contemporary cinema, both in style and substance. The central character is Lucy (Ellen Page), a young, lost woman whose father is on death row for killing her mother. Her elder sister Martha (Amy Seimetz) drags her and their younger brother, Ben (Charlie Shotwell), to executions at prisons all across the country to protest against capital punishment. It is at one of these events that she meets Mercy (Kate Mara), a young woman who is on the other side of the argument. It is a bleak – bordering on hopeless – journey of life, death, and love.
There is a current trend in independent film-making to shoot much of the film with a shaky, unsteady hand to perhaps emphasise the messiness of reality. But there comes a point when it detracts from the subject matter. Unfortunately, at times, My Days of Mercy suffers from this problem. Lucy and her family live in a tiny town which everyone is scrambling to run away from, a trope seen in everything from Ladybird to Beautiful Creatures. The siblings live in the house where their mother was murdered and share a laptop between them. Israeli director Tali Shalom-Ezer paints an effective portrait of a working-class American family which is nicely juxtaposed with the middle-class world to which Mercy belongs.
The concept of capital punishment is a difficult issue, and Ezer neatly balances the two sides of the argument, personified by Mercy and Lucy respectively. Everyone knows a story like Mercy’s and a story like Lucy’s, and each is given a chance to voice their thoughts and feelings without immediate judgement- something that is rare in the onslaught of American crime dramas Netflix keeps pumping out. Yet juxtaposed with this is the love story between our two main characters. Ellen Page is, as always, the blend of shy and ‘gives-no-fucks’ that we have grown to love since Juno. Mara, on the other hand, is heartless and very hard to like. Although credit must go to Ezer for handling a lesbian love story far better than many filmmakers before her. In addition, any time an LGBTQIA+ relationship is shown on screen but not part of the plot itself is a step forward in representation.
However, the film somehow frames Mara as the sexually confident woman, seducing Page, until she returns to her white bread world across the country. The relationship is all Lucy has, so it almost feels as though Mercy is using Lucy to explore a side of herself which she keeps hidden from her parents. God forbid a lesbian relationship ever end happily! It may have been the right decision for the tone of the film, but is it too much to ask for once that an LGBTQIA+ romance is not merely a brief, intimate, but ultimately doomed encounter?
My Days of Mercy is strongest when Lucy is interacting with her family. The performances are genuine, and Charlie Shotwell is particularly endearing; too young to understand why their father refuses to see him. It is weakest when it forces Mara and Page together in a romance that Mara’s character doesn’t want, even though it is something for which Page’s character yearns. The thread about Lucy’s father is shifted somewhat to the background to make room for romance. Perhaps it is more realistic that their relationship is brief and reaches the conclusion it does, but the world within the film is so bleak that it would be nice to have some hope somewhere.
Ezer shoulders the difficult subject matter and representation issues with finesse and grace, but the film falls in line with others of its kind. The only difference, for once, is that there is more to the story than two women in love.
My Days of Mercy is out in cinemas and VOD May 17th
by Mia Garfield
Mia Garfield has just finished a degree in Film at Falmouth University. She has written about the female voice in cinema and negotiating the position of the female director. She has just finished her first short film ‘Sonder’, keep an eye out for it at festivals in the UK. A big lover of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Mythology, her taste is varied and every time she is asked about her favourite film she gives a different answer. Today her favourite films include Howl’s Moving Castle, Memoirs of A Geisha, How to Train Your Dragon, and Big Hero 6. You can find her @miajulianna2864