New from A Reel of One’s Own by Andrea Thompson: Sundance 2021 Review: Mayday

By Andrea Thompson

“Mayday” is the kind of film with some damn good ideas, which the film can’t seem to see through. It takes pains to establish the dark, depressing, deeply misogynistic world Ana (Grace Van Patten) lives in, or more accurately, struggles through as a waitress who lives in her car and copes with physical and emotional abuse at her job. Since every other girl and woman she knows (and a few of the men) are in pretty much the same boat, it’s pretty understandable why she follows the voice she hears in the stove at her workplace during a mysterious storm and finds herself on an equally mysterious island where a number of other young women her age are fighting male soldiers in a never-ending, literal battle of the sexes.

Ana finds empowerment in not just her physical training, but the emotional and physical closeness in the ragtag group of warriors led by the charismatic Marsha, played by Mia Goth, who’s clearly relishing playing a badass. And the uniforms are downright adorable. Less so are Ana’s new friends, who use the expectations men have of them as damsels in need of rescue to lethal use, from the distress signals they send to lure them to their deaths, to those who are unfortunate enough to encounter them in person. Puzzlingly, Ana seems to have few qualms about this until she has an actual gun in her hands and is expected to actually shoot people. Since “Mayday” can’t seem to allow Ana to be anything but a likable victim, her first kills are required to save one of her friends from a brutal execution, and only because Marsha manipulated the whole situation.

Ana also doesn’t become the psychopath Marsha intended after this, even if she continues to add to her body count. Too bad her empowerment isn’t contagious, as her new path causes her friendship with Marsha and its lesbian overtones to deteriorate as Martha’s mental state becomes more and more unstable, and even begins berating Ana in the same savagely sexist language as their oppressors. When Ana decides to choose hope and attempt to return to her life, it’s also at the expense of the other women and girls on the island, who decide it’s too late for them, but are nonetheless willing to help her even though it will lead to their destruction because…that’s just how it works.

Ultimately, Ana is only here to uplift herself, and the other girls are simply too far gone to be saved – once they become too ugly, they are deemed monsters, which is strange in a film that’s all about second chances at life. Ana is also far less interesting than her eventual antagonist Marsha, who for all her wrongheadedness is at least attempting to empower and care for others. But all Ana becomes is another girl who could have more opportunities if she could just learn to Believe In Herself, and the only voice she manages to find is her own.

Grade: B-

from A Reel Of One’s Own

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