'A Date for Mad Mary is the best Irish film I've seen in a long time' - our reviewer gives the lowdown
* A Date for Mad Mary (15A, 92mins), 5 Stars
* Things to Come (12A, 102mins), 5 Stars
* Equity (15A, 100mins), 2 Stars
* Morgan(15A, 92mins) 3 Stars
Darren Thornton's A Date for Mad Mary is the best Irish film I've seen in a long time, and blends comedy, romance and pathos with extraordinary skill. Mary McArdle (Séana Kerslake) has a temper, and when we first meet her she's being released from prison after a stretch. When she gets back to Drogheda, Mary attempts to reconnect with her best friend Charlene (Charleigh Bailey), who's getting married and doesn't seem too keen on consorting with a jailbird.
Mary has agreed to act as maid of honour, but finds the endless frilliness of wedding planning excessive, and things get worse when Charlene insists she finds a plus-one for the big day. A series of blind dates go badly, and Mary faces a dilemma when she falls in love with a singer who also happens to be a woman (Tara Lee).
Mary's evolving relationships with Charlene, Jess (Ms Lee) and her mother (Denise McCormack) form the engine of this impressively focused film, which uses words with admirable economy and tells its story in a truly cinematic fashion. That places huge demands on Séana Kerslake, who's on screen constantly and examined relentlessly in telling close-ups. She's superb, an extraordinary talent, and surely bound for bigger things.
In Things to Come we get to enjoy the skill of an actress at the other end of her career. Isabelle Huppert is 63 now but right on top of her game, and she delivers one of her very best performances in Mia Hansen-Love's film, a brainy drama with attractive, overarching themes.
Nathalie Chazeaux is a veteran Parisian intellectual who teaches philosophy to lycée students and publishes learned essays in her spare time. She quotes Pascal and Schopenhauer and lives in a handsome apartment lined with shelves of books that insulate her from the outside world, but her bourgeois equanimity is rocked when her husband (André Marcon) announces he's leaving her for a younger woman.
Nathalie seems like a woman terrified to stop and take stock, but eventually she's forced to, and the question is, will philosophy help? Things to Come is a lovely film, thoughtful but never pretentious, and Ms Huppert's performance is exceptional.
Nothing all that exceptional about Equity. Directed by Meera Menon, it's a Wall Street thriller in which the principal players are female. High-flying investment banker Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) is about to handle a potentially career-making stock market IPO for a social-media site when she realises she's being investigated by an old school friend who's now a pubic investigator. Naomi's on-off boyfriend, Michael (James Purefoy) is suspected of insider trading, and Naomi is about to be implicated.
"It's okay," she says at one point, "for women to be ambitious", and the film investigates the different standards female businesswomen face. But it's worthy rather than interesting, and its screenplay has the consistency of porridge.
In Morgan, Kate Mara (sister of Rooney, and late of 'House of Cards') plays another very business-like woman. Tight-lipped corporate investigator Lea Weathers arrives at a remote location to sort out a bit of a mess. A team of scientists have been working on a revolutionary new humanoid developed in a lab using synthetic DNA. Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) seems both intelligent and sensitive until one day she takes the hump and stabs her handler in the eye. Lee has come to assess her viability, but the team who built her are very defensive.
A fine cast including Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Paul Giamatti and Michelle Yoah are well served by director Luke Scott (son of Ridley), who rattles out a brisk and efficient sci-fi horror yarn.