We’ve all pulled stupid stunts, haven’t we? Some we plan, knowing they are stupid, others just happen and we only realize afterwards how stupid they are. The point is that we should learn from our stupidity and move on. But some of us need to do the same stupid things over and over until we have no choice but to change. The titular Mary, in the film Mary Goes Round, is definitely in the second camp. As one of the characters says in a line which becomes the overarching theme of the film; “good people do shitty things.”
We meet Mary on a wild night out that involves dancing on a bar, and drunkenly asking her cab driver to get a pizza with her. This night is not an outlier. We soon learn that her boyfriend is trying to get her to quit drinking, a task which she enters into in earnest. Mary stays on the straight and narrow until she is triggered to have some champagne at a baby shower (let she who is without child and not been driven to over drink at a baby shower throw the first cork), a decision which ends with Mary (you, actually) ramming her boyfriend’s car into a suburban æWatch for Children” signpost.
It is this type of wry humour that saves Mary Goes Round from veering into maudlin Afterschool Special territory. This, and the lead Aya Cash, who portrays Mary as far too clever to be in her predicament, but far too damaged to find an easy way out. Written and directed by Molly McGlynn, this film is reminiscent of other recent “addicted women” films like Smashed, I Smile Back, and even Rachel Getting Married, but for its strength in finding humour in the most desperate of circumstances.
Mary, having now lost her boyfriend, her job as an addictions counsellor, and her driver’s license, finds herself in Niagara Falls reluctantly reconnecting with her estranged father who is dying, and her teenaged half-sister who doesn’t know about their father’s condition. There is something hauntingly melancholy about tourist spots in the off-season that McGlynn uses to her advantage here. Mary rides a bike through empty streets, past signs for drinks specials at bars, she rides the ferris wheel to the top, where she pours liquor into a pop bottle and chugs it. The fun, it seems, is over, and no place mirrors her situation better than Niagara Falls in winter. Instead of escaping her problems, coming to Niagara Falls has doubled them – a dying father she resents, a teen sister who resents her, mounting legal fees – but it offers solutions too.
Mary meets Lou, herself a struggling addict, at an AA meeting, and they form a tentative friendship. Mary is forced to confront some uncomfortable secrets about her family, provide support for her sister when she can barely take care of herself, and try to make sense out of how she let her life get completely out of control. Instead of following the familiar beats that these kinds of stories employ – redemption for all the characters, a broken family repairs, and lessons are learned – Mary Goes Round delves into the struggle of doing the right thing over doing the easy thing. As she says to her sister after picking her up drunk at a party, then getting pulled over for driving with a suspended licence from her DUI, “good people do shitty things. Then you fix it.”
Mary Goes Round is an unself-conscious, sweet, and sometimes sour look at one woman trying to get back into the driver’s seat of her own life. Her route is circuitous, with no clearly defined finish line or reliable shortcuts to make it easy. But none of the best stories – or lives – are easy.