Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2019 Taiwan International Queer Film Festival.
My Days of Mercy (2017), Tali Shalom-Ezer’s death penalty lesbian rom-com written by Joe Barton, is a strange bird. The basic structure is very similar to Up in the Air (2009), with Ellen Page playing the George Clooney audience surrogate role, and Kate Mara as the Vera Farmiga outsider role. But whereas that film used its downtime to explore the depths of the Clooney character’s loneliness (with the help of Anna Kendrick), here the second focus is a serious, nuanced exploration of the aftereffects of execution by the state (with the help of Amy Seimetz and an adorable Charlie Shotwell).
Looked at in this way, the rather abrupt meet-cute scene, in which Kate Mara’s death penalty-supporting Mercy (I know, I know) bums a cig off of Ellen Page’s anti-death penalty protestor Lucy, becomes more understandable, albeit still abrupt. Turns out Mercy has a loving bourgeois family and fiance, and she’s just out cruising for fun.
The sex scenes, to my heterosexual eyes, seemed a bit off in terms of positions, but in an interview Page and Mara say that the director tried them all out with her wife, and they all work. So there’s that.
Finally, the death penalty forms the connective traumatic bond of Lucy’s family, and that tortured and torturous connection is there even when the three siblings are doing something fun, like popping bubble wrap. This means that the death penalty parts are actually much better than the rom-com ones, and the disparity leads to some tonally awkward mid-scene transitions between the two. The dialogue often shifts gears before the tone can keep up; there’s a desperate need for more pregnant pauses, pun unintended.