By Kim Hughes
An absolute gem of a movie and, notably, the debut feature of Canadian writer/director Molly McGlynn, dramedy Mary Goes Round hits the sweet spot between awkward and affecting without ever feeling contrived.
As the movie begins, Mary (a brilliant Aya Cash) is gingerly denying her alcoholism to others and to herself, a point made especially burdensome for Mary given her job as a substance abuse counsellor. The irony is not lost on our girl, who oscillates between self-loathing and ennui with depressing ease.
A drunk driving accident costs an already fragile Mary her job, her driving license, and her boyfriend. So, when Mary’s estranged dad Walt (John Ralston) abruptly requests that she come home to Niagara Falls from Toronto, Mary sees no alternative but to comply.
In short order, we learn that Mary — whose mother died and whose relationship with Walt is deeply fraught — has a younger half-sister, Robyn (Sara Waisglass). The sibs are not acquainted and that’s something Walt hopes will change before cancer takes him. To heal herself, Mary must forge a relationship with her fractured family, leaning heavily on new friend and sort-of AA sponsor Lou (Melanie Nicholls-King) for help.
As relatively straightforward as all that sounds, director McGlynn delivers each scene with riveting authenticity. When a precariously sober Mary attends a baby shower peopled by snooty women, her clumsy fall from the wagon is at once cringe-worthy and palpably sad.
Alcoholism, even female alcoholism, is well-documented in movies. Yet the subject feels fresh and urgent in Mary Goes Round, conveyed by Cash and McGlynn not just as an addiction but as a lifeline for someone perilously detached from love. Despite her sometimes-awful behaviour, we care deeply about Mary. That feeling powerfully buoys this lovely film.
Mary Goes Round. Written and directed by Molly McGlynn. Starring Aya Cash, Sara Waisglass, John Ralston, and Melanie Nicholls-King. Opens wide March 30.