by Andrea Josic
The daughter (Ellen Page) of a man on death row falls in love with a woman (Kate Mara) on the opposing side of her family’s political cause. – TIFF Description
With director Tali Shalom-Ezer’s first ever screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, My Days of Mercy explores two extremely different narratives as a romance between two women with polarizing beliefs develops in a tense political atmosphere.
The movie follows Lucy Morrow (Ellen Page), her older sister Martha (Amy Seimetz) and her younger brother Simon (Elias Koteas) travelling around the United States protesting capital punishment in front of prisons. Early on, interest sparks between Lucy and Mercy (Kate Mara) and complications arise as Mercy is revealed to be a capital punishment supporter. This problem deepens when the audience finds out that Lucy’s father will be given a lethal injection in four months for the charge of first-degree murder of their mother.
Despite Lucy being the laid back, witty and blunt character Page is well-known for playing, Page delivers a performance so visceral and believable that it feels as though she strives to slowly drag the audience into the undercurrent of the love between the two characters. Page’s ability to contribute a playful nature intensifies the dynamic of the romance and creates an interesting narrative proving opposites attract.
As usual, love prevails and the two characters navigate conflicting views and Lucy finds solace in the ability to confide in someone. Unfortunately, as strong as Page’s character is, Mara’s acting fundamentally lacks the life and dedication to make Mercy likeable. Mercy’s suggestive innuendos give her personality an edge that is initially enjoyable but as Mara incessantly plays on this trait it turns bland and she loses grip on her character.
Seimetz does an exceptional job embodying Martha, conscientiously stable throughout the movie under the growing pressure of her father’s situation, making it easy for her younger siblings to look to her for guidance. Martha shows her strength by endlessly scrambling for evidence that is going to be effective enough to get their father off of death row. As their father’s day of execution approaches, Lucy’s emotions give in to the grim circumstances and the aggressive, perverse side of her character is exposed. The differences in Martha and Lucy’s characters creates a complementary balance as we see the two attempting to shelter their younger brother from the cruel, unjust reality of losing family members.
The political narrative remains consistently captivating throughout the movie and dives just deep enough to scratch the surface of the controversial topic of capital punishment. The reality of this issue hits the audience through beautifully planned cinematography that shows each prisoner’s last meal followed by protests outside of the mentioned prison. Suspense throughout the movie builds perfectly through the use of the countdown clock appearing every so often shows how much time there is until the father is put to death.
Overall, the combination of a lesbian, Romeo-and-Juliet-style romance and the complexity behind the death penalty play slightly more on each other’s strengths than their weaknesses. Despite Page’s outstanding acting that triggers raw emotions in the audience, Mara’s below-average performance makes the romance seem awkward and forced at times.
As the political aspect of the plot develops and the feelings between Lucy and Mercy are established, the stories, although loosely, tie together. The combination of two very different narratives produces an original story that ultimately remains powerful and emotional while providing a glimpse into the many aspects of human nature that arise in times of struggle.