Lucy (Ellen Page), whose father is on death row, spends her weekends attending anti-death penalty rallies with her brother and sister. It is on one of these trips that she meets Mercy (Kate Mara), who is at a counter protest. Despite their opposing viewpoints, the two women soon fall in love.
But there are more problems afoot. Lucy is unemployed, and her older sister Martha (Amy Seimetz) is struggling to provide for her and their little brother on her one paycheck. She’s had to resort to sleeping with the family’s lawyer, as they can’t afford his fee. The siblings are still traumatised at the thought of their father having actually done what he is in prison for – killing their mother. When some new evidence comes to light, their lives are once more thrown into turmoil.
It could hardly sound more dramatic. Women from either side of the death penalty debate having a passionate forbidden affair. A family dealing with a father on death row who may have killed their mother. A sister sleeping with a lawyer to procure his counsel.
Yet what makes My Days Of Mercy so impressive is its consistent understatement. There are a handful of shouty scenes, but most of the work here is quiet and considered. Director Tali Shalom Ezer leans out from theatrics as much as she can, grounding the story with emotional honesty. These are contrived situations, dealt with in a human way.Joe Barton’s smart screenplay allows plenty of time for Lucy and Mercy to fall for each other. Though the attraction is instant, they get to know one another before becoming romantically attached; their long, searching, quip-filled conversations are lovely to watch, and the sweet initial awkwardness of their flirting feels very real. Of course, it helps that they have great chemistry.
Just as compelling as this central romance is the family drama. My Days Of Mercy is an interesting portrait of what it is to live with a trauma for so long that it has become woven into the fabric of everyday life. It’s been eight years since their father’s arrest, and the craziness of the sisters’ world – the protests, the death row visits, looking after their kid brother – has long since become routine. Their grief hasn’t disappeared, but they’ve had to tamp it down in order to get on with the day-to-day business of living. The dialogue between Lucy and Martha is often light and jokey, but there’s an underlying weight to their exchanges which belies the horror of the experience they’ve shared.
The film only takes one unwise turn, in the form of an unnecessary third-act twist in Lucy and Mercy’s relationship. Whilst the effects of that twist are soon discounted, it’s a needless addition to an already packed storyline, inserted for the dramatics it provokes rather than to advance the plot or the characters.
That unfortunate moment notwithstanding, My Days Of Mercy is an absorbing tale of an unlikely romance and a family contending with the impossible. It’s well worth your attention.