My main takeaway from Kate Cinorre’s Mayday is that Cinorre is trying very hard to convince us of her story. Her characters loudly shout and declare their purpose in the classic telling-and-not-showing way, they remain underdeveloped throughout the film, and the story is fairly predictable from the onset. Transported to a different world after an accident at work, Ana (Grace Van Patten) wakes up on a coastline among a group of female soldiers fighting a slow-moving war against men.
After an unhappy life working at a seaside hotel with an abusive manager, Ana’s seeming rebirth in this new land, at first, feels welcome. She meets Marsha (Mia Goth), Gert (Soko), and Bea (Havana Rose Liu), her comrades. Initially unsure of herself, she gains courage and self-confidence after being tutored by the snappy and straight-talking Marsha. Cinorre’s worldbuilding of this fantasy land is loose (I’ve seen other critics praise the worldbuilding, but there’s actually very little of it), but that’s just fine. The story feels largely metaphorical and often has shades of a fucked-up storybook that benefit the film. Marsha, Gert, Bea, and Ana enjoy their time on the coast, luring sailors to their death with false Mayday calls and bad coordinates. They shoot soldiers who land on their territory after parachuting out. In this world, it’s boys vs girls, take no prisoners.
Of course, in a modern 2021 world, the gender binary can feel a little tiring. Cinorre’s writing doesn’t help. Although her vision as a director is gorgeous, the true story of Mayday is quite unbalanced after you get past the initial concept. Marsha’s character is insufferable and harbors so much internalized misogyny that she seems to be completely controlled by her Id. The script is chock full of one-liners that suffer from the classic issue of “nobody actually talks like this.” It feels like a second draft and one that needs serious rewrites at moments. At one point, Marsha says, “I made you into a hero.” Ana replies, “You made me into a psychopath.” Marsha retorts, “It’s the same thing.”
It’s cringeworthy at points, and yes, Mia Goth is able to pull it off, but they’re not exactly difficult lines to read. Goth has been praised many times for her performance, but Marsha is a character who demands overacting and is a tiresome person to watch on screen. Throwing tantrums and scowling through dialogue is hardly the hallmark of a brilliant actress. But, the female characters have a good amount of chemistry with one another, and in moments when the potential of Mayday shines through, it’s mainly due to the actresses.
Ultimately, Mayday is an unevolved feminist fantasy. The female characters’ lives still revolve around men, except now it’s revenge-fueled, luring them to crash on their coastlines like sirens at sea. At some point, I hoped that Marsha, Bea, and Gert all represented different sides of Ana, perhaps disparate parts of her that were battling for harmony with Ana’s true self. It’s never really made clear where Ana is, but perhaps this might have added an extra layer to the story. With a stronger script and story, Mayday could have been great. As it is now, the film is a story composed of simple characters in a plot that feels like one large exercise in character development
This film review was based on the premiere at Sundance Film Festival 2021. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution. Photo by Tjaša Kalkan Courtesy of Sundance Institute.