Mary Kelly (Adanna Avon) moves to a new town with her mother and younger brother. Enrolled in a Catholic school, Mary finds herself drawn to the teachings of Sister Adelia (Teresa Laverty) while simultaneously enduring the subtle bullying of fellow student Tammy (Adrienne Hicks). Short tempered, Mary manages to focus her emotions on a contest to win a Virgin Mary statue for her own personal altar at home. Of course, Tammy is also competing for the statue, and turns out to be tougher competition than Mary ever imagined.
While the obvious narrative that sticks out in Teresa McGee’s The Mary Contest is one of adaptation for Mary, with the contest as main conflict, the true nature of the story doesn’t reveal itself until after the contest ends. It is there that we see the totality of what the film is trying to express, and the film begins to shine. Until that point, it is pretty straightforward.
And plain. Things are generally low key and conflicts small; this film has a prevailing good-natured vibe. Even the moments of bullying are more along the lines of teasing than mean-spirited abuse; you never get the feeling that Tammy is really trying to hurt anyone’s feelings so much as just not taking anyone else’s feelings into account. If the tormented sees things as severe, however, then they ultimately are, regardless of how it may look from the outside.
The film isn’t uninteresting in its simplicity, but it does take some time to ramp up. Once the contest is underway and the film goes through to its finish, it’s quite compelling and even somewhat exciting. The lead-in to the contest, however, is a lot of character setup as the film establishes why this contest is so important to Mary, where her life is at and her new found love of the church. The ultimate result is the film feels slow to start.
Which at least isn’t an editorial flow imbalance; the film never feels out of sorts there, it’s just elements of the piece have different vibes. The pacing within scenes, for the most part, is consistent throughout. The film also looks and sounds quite good, though some scenes may have been over-massaged in the audio department, as they pass beyond quality sound into that realm where the sound is so pristine, it feels unreal.
Overall, The Mary Contest is a quality film, with solid performances, that reminds us of the importance of empathy. It possibly could be shorter, or the pace quickened in the opening, but I think it works fine for where it is. It doesn’t feel long, it just, for me, has a clear dividing line where the content of the short becomes more engaging.
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