ASIAN FILM - Review
11:00 - 26th July 2015, by David West

Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy

Mary (Patcha Poonpiriya) is approaching her high school graduation, but she’s not looking forward to the prospect of her best friend Suri (Chonnikan Netjui) heading off to university in Austria. Then there’s the matter of trying to find out if her crush M (Vasuphon Kriangprapakit) likes her or not. What she’s actually supposed to be doing is putting together the yearbook for her graduating class, but that’s the last thing on her mind.

Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy is the second feature from Thai director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit and, as is revealed in the credits, is based upon the “original tweets by Mary Maloney”. These tweets, mostly in Thai but occasionally in English, pop up on screen throughout the film, and their thoroughly random nature, particularly at the outset, mean that at times the movie hops about like a grasshopper – one moment Mary is in school, the next she’s reclining in France with the Eiffel Tower in the background. But slowly, a story asserts itself, mainly dealing with Mary’s struggle to face her impending graduation and the implicit transition from childhood to adulthood. So her impulsive desire to order jellyfish on the internet, or to sneak out of school to have cake with Suri seems less scattershot and more indicative of a youngster enjoying their final chance to be irresponsible.

The style is often self-aware – when Suri finds Mary gazing wistfully into the distance with a cigarette in her mouth, she scolds her, “What the **** are you doing? This is no time for Wong Kar-Wai. You don’t even smoke.” There’s a recurring gag about Mary’s knockoff iPhone constantly electrocuting her, and the ludicrous rules of the new school headmaster who makes himself the centre of the curriculum, but the tone turns surprisingly dark in the second half. While Mary’s tweets seem as innocuous as ever when read in isolation, Thamrongrattanarit’s script means they become loaded with ever greater meaning, lending them unexpected poignancy. What emerges is a strong coming-of-age story addressing the loss of innocence that accompanies major life events.

The two leads are very strong. Patcha Poonpiriya is note perfect as Mary, making her both needy and vulnerable. She can seem terribly young when confronted by her teachers about her lack of progress on the yearbook, but she’s still wily and strong willed enough to be able to cajole Suri into joining her schemes. Chonnikan Netjui’s Suri is the more mature and grounded of the duo, less afraid of the future than her best friend and altogether more practical and pragmatic. When Mary is busy pondering aloud whether all actions in life are predetermined or the result of free will, Suri typically tells her to shut up.

The film is shot in an unfussy, naturalistic style. Most scenes appear to employ the natural, available light, and the camerawork is typically handheld, but unobtrusively so. Basing a feature around a teenager’s tweets could have resulted in self-indulgent navel gazing, but Mary Is Happy is deeper than 140 characters.

Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy takes a little time to settle down, and at just over two hours it could stand perhaps a trim off the top, but Mary is an engaging and sympathetic protagonist whose constant tweets gradually become rather hypnotic. A poignant ode to the trials and delights of being a teenager in a connected world.
SCORE: 4/5
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