For years, the LGBTQ+ community have been begging for cinema beyond the typical coming-out story – cinema that explores conflict within queer relationships without resorting to “help me, I’m gay!” Tali Shalom Ezer’s latest feature ‘My Days of Mercy’ promises such a story. The premise is simple but intriguing: protagonist Lucy (Ellen Page), whose father is on death row, falls in love with pro-death penalty campaigner Mercy (Kate Mara). Unfortunately, despite truly electric chemistry between Page and Mara, ‘My Days of Mercy’ never delves far enough into the dramatic potential of such viscerally clashing moral standpoints. The result is a film that is momentarily sweet, but ultimately unsatisfying.
Shalom Ezer begins the film by throwing us right into the protest action; a man is on death row for killing a police officer, and there are pickets on both sides of the argument. Lucy, accompanied by her siblings and, protests as though it is part of her daily routine. Desensitised and slightly bored, she continues through these motions in the dimly lit hope of changing things for her own father. As the pro-death penalty campaigners arrive, notably more prim and proper than the “hippy” antis, Lucy’s eyes meet Mercy’s across the picket lines. It’s cheesy, and a little lacking in believability, but nonetheless a classic way for two would-be lovers to first notice each other.
Over the next couple of protests, Mercy physically and emotionally inches her way into Lucy’s life. She’s pushy but charming, and Lucy’s oppositional personality (laid-back, youthful, equally charming in her own way) creates a genuine rapport. They flirt awkwardly in an endearing slow-burn, stumbling around each other until they’re finally comfortable. They dance around labels as they continue their romance, both in terms of commitment and in terms of sexuality. (One sequence involves Mercy enquiring into Lucy’s love life, and Lucy notably avoiding gendered pronouns – two minutes later, the pair are having sex in the back of an RV.) They ignore their differences, and the abyss of their opposing backgrounds closes between them.
Whilst this goes on, conflict continues around the loved-up women. Lucy’s reality is shaken once more as the date for her father’s death sentence is set, and the family must scramble to clear his name within a measly four months. Luckily, Mercy is a junior lawyer – “I hate lawyers,” claims Lucy, as she stares dreamily into Mercy’s eyes – and offers to help with the case, on the basis that innocent people do not deserve to die.
This natural mismatch of morals between the two protagonists is a great opportunity for conflict and could have provided the well-rounded lesbian movie that we’ve all been praying for. ‘My Days of Mercy’, however, tiptoes around these arguments and eventually resorts to the same old tactics for creating plot progression between queer female protagonists. Without spoiling anything, it is not the differences of mind that causes the real issues for Lucy and Mercy, though they fight once or twice about their contrasting stances. Their opinions on the death penalty are not even rooted in themselves, and Mercy is often alleviated from the responsibility she has over her actions at the protests: she was brought up in this community, just as Lucy was brought up in hers.
By removing any actual debate from the film and rooting the two opposing stances in matters of circumstance, both protagonists come across as disinterested in their beliefs at best, and disrespectful to the causes they claim to fight for at worst. Mercy and Lucy form a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, but without any of the conflict, as neither of their families really care about “fraternizing with the enemy” anyway. Lucy may receive a couple of snappy comments from her sister, but they make so little impact on her relationship with Mercy that they may as well have not been included at all.
Ultimately, ‘My Days of Mercy’ is worth seeing solely for the story of tentative new love. The chemistry between the two leads is intense from the very first moment, and the pair carry this throughout the film, whether they are joking around, kissing, or even campaigning against each other. Shalom Ezer is just as dedicated as her actors and appears blissfully focused on the experiences of the characters rather than the titillation of the audience when she shoots romantic scenes. Viewers seeking a weighty drama, however, will be highly disappointed, as the film’s wavering attempt at unique conflict never comes to fruition.