Darren Thornton’s A Date for Mad Mary is a charming coming-of-age romance featuring incredible performances, unpredictable plot turns, and immense directorial skill. Thornton co-wrote the film with his brother Colin, based off of a play written by Yamine Akram that Darren also directed.

A Date for Mad Mary appears to be your standard young adult melodrama on the surface. Mary (Seána Kerslake) is coming home from a six-month stint in the local jail, and it feels like everyone in her life has changed while she was absent, especially her best mate Charlene (Charleigh Bailey). Still, Mary is the maid of honor at Charlene’s wedding, and she wants to prove that she can get a date in time.

See what I mean? This is rom-com 101. Except it isn’t. For a serious stretch of the film it isn’t clear at all where the plot is going. Many meet-cutes are aborted. One date sets up some textbook rom-com fodder, but Mary ruins it all with a careless statement and then can’t even be bothered to fix it, subverting the trope beautifully. Practically the only thing that Mary does right is goad a videographer named Jess (Tara Lee) into working Charlene’s wedding.

As refreshing as the plot is, A Date for Mad Mary ascends to greatness by virtue of its performances. Kerslake and Lee are astounding in scenes together, patiently letting silent looks and hesitation convey their raw vulnerability. Bailey won an Irish Film & Television award for her supporting role, and her scenes with Kerslake are charged with similar emotion.

For a film that seems so easy to dismiss on the surface, A Date for Mad Mary will linger on magically for days after your initial viewing.

Thursday, June 1, 7:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox

Tickets can be purchased at the Inside Out website.