MAD (Slamdance Review)
Following in the footsteps of Alex Ross Perry’s comedies and 2014 SXSW winner Fort Tilden (whose co-lead Clare McNulty shows up here in a small role), Robert Putka’s MAD deals almost exclusively with watching selfish, heinous people behave in selfish, heinous ways, with Putka setting his sights on a dysfunctional family and their bipolar mother. Mel (Maryann Plunkett) suffers a breakdown after her husband leaves her, winding up in the hospital when she’s found uncontrollably sobbing by her neighbours. Mel’s daughters Connie (Jennifer Lafleur), a successful corporate worker with a husband and two kids, and Casey (Eilis Cahill), unemployed and trying to figure out her life, convince her to commit herself to a psych ward in order to rehabilitate herself, a choice fueled more by selfishness than a sincere desire to help their mom.
Of course, being a family with its fair share of relationship issues, every interaction ends up devolving into a brutal war of words between mother and daughter(s). Putka, who also wrote the screenplay, knows how to write some great passive-aggressive barbs (when a dejected Mel tells Connie that her daughters hate her, Connie calmly responds with “Casey doesn’t hate you”), and his game cast do a great job making their arguments crackle until the acid-tongued screenplay gets the better of everyone. For the most part, Putka’s tonal balance between sweet and bitter works (largely because of Plunkett’s performance), but the constant repetition of Connie or other characters lashing out at one another takes its toll, eventually making scenes feel like Putka trying to constantly one-up his own insults. That makes MAD work against itself when it tries to humanize its three leads, resulting in a rocky ending when the film goes for an emotionally satisfying payoff. Fans of extremely caustic humour should get their fill with MAD, and while Putka’s attempt to find a middle ground between the sincere and cynical doesn’t entirely work (a hard task for anyone to accomplish, let alone a first feature), he shows enough wit to make MAD’s ambitions worthwhile.