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VOD Review: My Days of Mercy

September 2, 2020

By John Corrado

★½ (out of 4)

It’s a strange experience to watch a film that does almost nothing for you only to go online afterwards to find out that it has a high score on Rotten Tomatoes.

This is what happened to me with My Days of Mercy, a lesbian romance about the death penalty that doesn’t really take sides on this contentious issue. The film premiered three years ago as a Gala Presentation at TIFF, and is finally resurfacing now with a Canadian digital release, which sort of tells you everything you need to know about what sort of dreary indie film this is.

The film follows sister activists Lucy (Ellen Page) and Martha (Amy Seimetz), who travel around the United States in an RV with their little brother Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell), protesting the death penalty in front of prisons where inmates are about to be executed.

The three siblings have a personal connection to the cause, with their own father (Elias Koteas) on death row for allegedly stabbing their mother to death. They maintain the belief he was falsely accused, and are trying to get him released with the help of Weldon (Brian Geraghty), a greasy lawyer whom Martha is sleeping with. This is already a lot of plot to take in, but things get more complicated still when Lucy starts to fall in love with Mercy (Kate Mara), a young woman from the other side of the protests whose family is very involved in pushing for the death penalty in cases of murder.

The film came about through the desire of real life friends Page and Mara to do a project together, after struggling to find roles that were suitable for both of them. The screenplay, which was written by Joe Barton, bounced around development hell for nearly a decade, and only got made after the two stars came onboard as producers. The amount of time that the script took to get produced, as well as the lag it took for the film to finally be released following its festival premiere, isn’t shocking when viewing the final product.

The film ultimately tries to be too many things at once. It’s a romance about two women from different sides of the political fray who are starting to test the waters of a same-sex relationship. But it’s also a low-key family drama, a quasi murder mystery about siblings questioning whether or not their father is guilty of killing their mother, and a wishy-washy treatise on whether or not capital punishment is ever morally justifiable.

With this much on its plate, it’s not shocking that My Days of Mercy ends up feeling like it has too many themes and plot lines all piled up on top of each other, without a clear enough focus on any one of them to leave much of an impact. Furthermore, the stories of the prisoners themselves never really come into focus, and people of colour, who disproportionately make up the prison population in the United States, are kept almost entirely in the background. All of this feels like a mistake for a film that is taking on such large issues as the treatment of prisoners and the death penalty.

The basic story itself could have been interesting, but My Days of Mercy smothers it in on the nose melodrama and bad indie film cliches. I mean, this is literally a movie called My Days of Mercy, that features a love interest named Mercy, and is about, well, having mercy on people. Despite focusing on the potentially revolutionary romance between two diametrically and morally opposed women, the film’s plot is incredibly contrived and marked by some pretty cringey dialogue.

The film also features some truly cringe-worthy song choices. Take, for example, the scene where Lucy steals the RV to go see Mercy, and sings along to a song on the radio with such painfully obvious lyrics as “baby, baby, can I please get your number?” and “girl oh girl, when can I see you again?” It’s an original song that Page herself actually wrote, and the lyrics are so on the nose that the whole scene borders on self-parody. In another painfully obvious musical moment in the RV, Mercy lipsyncs to “Mercy” by Duffy after declaring “this is my song!”, an indie film cliche if I ever heard one. The basic obviousness of both these moments makes them almost unbearable.

The film actually reminded me of the film Freeheld, another Ellen Page vehicle which took an interesting story and turned it into a plodding melodrama with a made for TV feel. Page and Mara do have natural chemistry together, and both deliver decent performances, but it’s not enough to salvage the film around them. This is a dull and heavy-handed film that takes a potentially powerful story and does the least interesting things possible with it. It’s just not very good.

My Days of Mercy is now available for rent and purchase on a variety of digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by A71.

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