Sundance Review: “Mayday”

Year: 2021
Runtime: 100 minutes
Writer/Director: Karen Cinorre
Stars: Grace Van Patten, Mia Goth, Soko, Havana Rose Líu, Theodore Pellerin, Juliette Lewis

By Morgan Roberts

When we are at a crossroads in life, how do we ever truly escape to be able to examine where we want to go? In Mayday (2021), Ana (Grace Van Patten) is transported to another world where women rule the island and men must fight for survival. Already on the island are Marsha (Mia Goth), Gert (Soko) and Bea (Havana Rose Liu). The women radio for help and lure unsuspecting men to their demise, much like a siren would. At first, this matriarchal island feels like a haven but quickly turns into another cage for these women.

“Mayday” is “Alice in Wonderland” meets “Peter Pan” meets “The Wizard of Oz.” Ambitious is the most surface-level term for this film. Much like Alice or Dorothy, Ana has a bit of an ingénue, je ne sais quoi about her. You are enchanted by her, her curiosity, and her resilience. On the flip side, Marsha is a bit of the Peter Pan-type here. Marsha knows full well what the real world is all about and chooses to escape. Marsha would rather be stuck on an island, endlessly fighting men than return to real life where she no longer has the apparent upper hand.

Goth’s performance as Marsha is abundantly layered. Most times, we picture Peter Pan as a brat who does not want to grow up, but by making this figure a woman gives texture to the normally one dimensional character. The “I never want to grow up” attitude is replaced more by a “I never want to feel trapped” and “I never want to feel little” attitudes. Goth really leans into her character’s fears and drive for survival in a captivating manner.

Grace Van Patten appears in Mayday by Karen Cinorre, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Tjaša Kalkan. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

While this film is endlessly ambitious, it is not always executed in the best manner. Much like in “The Wizard of Oz,” Ana meets with people from her former life. It happens over and over and over again, feeling cyclical and at times does little to move the plot forward. Due to this and some other events, it makes the film feel a bit directionless until the final act commences. If the middle part of the film had more focus, less repetition, and was a touch more concise, the film would be rock solid.

Despite its flaws, this film does host some interesting ideas and some truly engaging performances. The stunning cinematography sure makes the film glorious to look at too. This is writer/director Karen Cinorre‘s first feature film, and it has the backbone of some really intriguing ideas and characters.

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