Asia House Pan-Asia Film Festival review: Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy

A still from Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy, which is being screened at the ICA on Sunday, 2 March

A still from Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy, which was screened at the ICA on Sunday, 2 March

Asia House Pan-Asia Film Festival review: Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy

28 February 2014

By Su-Lin Allen

The concept of Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy immediately grabbed me as it is based on hundreds of real tweets from a teenage girl @marylony and I am a social media enthusiast.

This is the first time I’ve come across a film that uses Twitter in this way and I’m surprised we haven’t seen anything sooner on the subject.

The tweets of the character Mary span from the mundane (“homework is hard”) to the more introspective, profound and at times bordering on pretentious (“our bodies age, but our hearts remain the same”). Mary’s tweets punctuate the scenes often providing more insight into her thoughts than she expresses to the other characters verbally.

For a film based on social media, it is surprisingly low-tech. You never actually see her tweeting, and scenes often feature old clunky printers and computer equipment in the background. Mary instead writes down her thoughts onto receipts she finds in her handbag, eventually creating a physical wall.

This is far from a glossy Hollywood coming-of-age film; it has a surreal offbeat style and tone, leaving the viewer to decipher what is real. It also has a documentary feel as it is shot with a handheld camera.

The plot developments can seem rather random at times, but there are also very funny sequences. Mary’s escapades often result in trips to the doctor and there is a brilliantly wry paramedic whose appearances you should look out for.

The second half of the film has a significant shift in tone, as Mary has to deal with heartbreak and loss. The repetition of the phrase “Mary is Happy” becomes more poignant here and just seems to emphasise her own depression. The film nevertheless maintains its quirky wit until the end.

Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy is an innovative and unusual film by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, and a follow up to his film 36 which is being screened at the Pan-Asia Film Festival the day before on March 1.

Title of film: Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy

Directed by: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

Released: Thailand 2013

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Language: Thai with English Subtitles

Type of film: Comedy drama

Key selling point of the film
Original, offbeat and witty. You’ll like it if you like Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Rushmore)

Plot summary
A coming-of-age story about a teenage girl who has to deal with crises in friendship, love and life.

Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy had its UK premiere at the ICA on March 2 during the Pan-Asia Film Festival. The director was also present.

The Asia House Pan-Asia Film Festival took place from 26 February-9 March.