Social media and cinema form an interesting alliance in “Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy,” a first-of-a-kind feature based on 410 consecutive Twitter updates by a poster known as @marylony. Molding these messages into a story about an angsty high-school girl and her best friend, Thai helmer Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit overcomes a rocky start to gradually weave an involving and amusing yarn. It will be a challenge attracting regular viewers to such a cross-platform concept, but many willing auds will discover a jaunty “Celine and Julie Go Boating”-like charm to this semi-surreal stream of Twitterness. Following berths at Venice, Busan and Tokyo, the pic appears certain to enjoy a lengthy fest life. Local release is planned for late 2013.
After sharing the New Currents prize at Busan in 2012 with his experimental debut “36,” which consisted of just 36 shots in 68 minutes, Thamrongrattanarit has almost doubled that film’s running time and cranked up the narrative complexity considerably with “Mary.” Unsurprisingly for a movie built around a long and completely unedited stream of tweets, the opening segs prove most difficult. Informed of the concept from the get-go, viewers are required to accept, every 20 seconds or so, tweets displayed as white text on a black screen or superimposed in the manner of subtitles. Frequently these superimposed tweets are identical to dialogue spoken by actors.
Kicking off with a tweet reading “tomorrow we gotta be faster,” the pic introduces Mary (Patcha Poonpiriya), who has been placed in charge of assembling the graduation yearbook at her all-girl school. She’s constantly accompanied by her best friend, Suri (Chonnikan Netjui), a sensible girl with none of the fear about the future that occupies Mary’s thoughts. For about the first 20 minutes, the film darts all over the place as tweets compel Mary to such random acts as ordering a jellyfish online and turning up in locations such as a jungle and a park bench near the Eiffel Tower.
At this point, viewers might be thinking the concept is fine for a short film, but another 100 minutes could induce novelty fatigue. Thamrongrattanarit arrests this concern by crafting a series of rewarding storylines from bits and pieces of the scattershot opening segments. One involves Mary’s attraction to M (Vasuphon Kriangprapakit), a handsome boy whose blunt response to her overtures packs real emotional punch. Engaging threads also emerge from a running gag involving the new headmaster’s fascist-like rules, a series of run-ins with a pernickety teacher (Krissada Sukosol Clapp, “13 Beloved”) and a tragic incident involving Suri.
Shot documentary-style with a steady handheld camera, and skillfully edited to provide a sense of fragments from tangentially connected dreams slowly forming a meaningful whole, “Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy” ultimately produces a believable, affecting and wryly funny study of its heroine’s hopes, anxieties and frequent bewilderment with life at the intersection of adolescence and adulthood.
Casting and performances are tops. Called upon to portray Mary as a gawky teenager one moment and a much more sophisticated young woman the next, Poonpiriya rises to the challenge admirably. Netjui is sparky and splendid as Mary’s loyal bestie. Featured in small roles are several Thai industry notables including writer-helmer Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, (“P-047”) and producer Soros Sukhum (“Wonderful Town”). Tech credits are fine on a limited budget.