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Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘Mayday’ Has Sparks of Creativity but Often Frustrates

"Mayday"

Creativity and imagination burn bright in Mayday, but that can only take a movie so far. After that, you need a story that compels the audience to buy into what you’re selling. This movie does not have that, sadly. Like all too many Sundance Film Festival entries over the years, it’s style with no substance. Frustratingly, these creative sparks suggest something more, so seeing little of it effectively realized is a bummer. Simply put, the film should have been much better than this. The ingredients are there. It’s just a cook too distracted by one element to deftly make the broth taste good.

Mayday feels like it has the skeleton of something wonderful. In theory, it should be hypnotic. Unfortunately, in practice it comes off closer to something like Sucker Punch than even last year’s Wendy (which I didn’t care for but know is well regarded). This is a misfire, to be sure, but one with so much potential, you can’t help but be upset as you watch it fall as flat as it does.

Ana (Grace Van Patten) is having a rough day at work, though circumstances are about to make that pale in comparison. When a freak electrical storm hits, she’s somehow suddenly transported to another world. There, a group of rebellious women, led by Marsha (Mia Goth), are engaged in a war that seems to have no end. Recruited by them and seen as a savior and warrior, she observes them targeting men on a strange coastline. Training to be a sniper, she quickly realizes she’s in way over her head, even if this new life offers a freedom her old one did not contain.

Hoping to still find a way home, Ana tries to fit in, but the longer she stays, the more it becomes clear that she’s not some fearless warrior. With Marsha questioning her loyalty, Ana is caught in a tough situation. With time running out, she comes up with a long shot plan to escape this unique world.

Grace Van Patten and Mia Goth do their best to keep you invested. There aren’t any layers in the script to their characters, but both actresses turn in committed performances. The latter is intense and unpredictable, while the former is a strong audience surrogate. Van Patten showcased some real potential in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), so it’s good to see she’s continuing to turn in solid work.

Karen Cinorre has style to spare, but she can’t nail down a story worth telling. I’m sure she didn’t want to make the art-house version of Sucker Punch, but that’s kind of what she ended up with. Her screenplay just never makes you care about anything that’s going on. Cinorre’s direction is better, though, with some occasionally striking visuals. With more focus on investing you in the plot, she really could have had something here.

Mayday has elements of a good film, but they never come together, leading to one of Sundance’s more frustrating experiences this year. So much of this flick should have been terrific, but it’s just content to hint at its full potential. What a missed opportunity for a captivating film. Alas.

SCORE: ★★1/2

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Written by Joey Magidson

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