We’re off at the BFI Flare, where My Days Of Mercy is the Opening Gala of a festival that provides a platform for emerging LGBTQ film. Lucy (Ellen Page), her sister Martha (Amy Seimetz) and their young brother Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell) visit prisons to protest against death row; a strange family tradition, I hear you murmur, but related to the fact their father is waiting for lethal injection for the murder of their mother. While solemnly hanging around their RV, Lucy catches the eye of Mercy (Kate Mara) from across the car park and we’re off, instant sparks that are played off by the chemistry between lead actresses. Lucy must juggle her father’s predicament with her quickly escalating relationship with Mercy, whose own family are vehemently campaigning for lethal injection as her father’s police partner was murdered and his killer was sent to death at the very protest where the women meet.
Here’s the issue: lethal injection is a big subject to relegate to a backdrop, which is what it becomes since the film really comes to life when the two women are exploring their newfound relationship. Their conversations are so quick to flip flop from talking about their personal lives, if they’ve got a boyfriend, when’s the last time they got laid to why they support their views on the death penalty and what Lucy’s personal trauma is; it is best exemplified when, right after their first time having sex, we cut to Lucy’s living room where Mercy asks if this is where her mother was killed. It feels like the two elements are constantly competing for the mutually exclusive spotlight and we never really get a sense they mix; it’s attempted when Mercy, a junior lawyer, suggests a special DNA test that might prove Lucy’s father innocent, but that proves to be a plot point to guide the film to a melodramatic ending.
Unfortunately Lucy’s character comes across a little stale and at times she feels like Juno without the self-awareness, but there are moments where her vulnerability peeks out, not necessarily in the big dramatic scenes with her father - which occasionally veers into the sentimental - but rather the smaller scenes, like when she and Mercy lie in bed in the morning and Lucy playfully begs her not to leave; you feel like you’re seeing something she doesn’t want you to, and that’s when you feel you’re watching a real person not a character. Similarly, Mercy’s banter with Lucy feels false and scripted, but every time she’s listening to Lucy spill her deepest, darkest secrets and we focus on her darting eyes running over Lucy’s face, you really do believe that Mercy cares and this is real, not just some meeting over the strangest circumstances.
There are some serious issues with tonal inconsistency which only highlights the bizarre premise of setting a relatively light-hearted, genuine love story against such a huge and deeply divisive issue. Placing images of inmates’ last meals as chapter headings is borderline insulting when the scene following is just to find a way for the two women to meet and continue their tryst and we never learn anything of the inmates apart from a picture on a placard, held up by the most uncomfortable group of extras in recent film; it leads me to believe that the writer may not have in-depth knowledge nor interest about death row and this was artificially adding details to a story that would have been sufficient in its own simplicity.
- Xiao Tang