Molly McGlynn's debut feature — a TIFF breakout — isn't a comedy or drama, just 'scorchingly true'
The Aya Cash-starring 'Mary Goes Round' is one of the Canadian highlights of this year's festival
As the Toronto International Film Festival winds down this weekend, much of the talk surrounding the movies that sold out theatres around the city is likely to be of the starry, Oscar-bound variety. Films like Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water, Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name and Joe Wright's Darkest Hour will be vying for the festival's Grolsch People's Choice Award, which typically goes to films on a fast track to the Academy Awards (see La La Land winning last year). But the festival also hands out juried prizes to a few Canadian films, including awards for Best Canadian Film and Best Canadian First Feature. And there are plenty of great films for that jury to choose from — not least of all Molly McGlynn's Mary Goes Round.
Montreal-born, New Jersey-raised and now Toronto-based, McGlynn came to TIFF this year with a myriad of credits to her name, including several short films and the webseries How To Buy a Baby. But Mary Goes Round marks her first feature film — and it's an incredibly assured one at that. It stars Aya Cash (from the U.S. TV series You're The Worst) as a Toronto substance abuse counsellor struggling with her own addictions as she visits her estranged, dying father (John Ralston) in her hometown of Niagara Falls, Ont.
"I feel like Mary Goes Round is kind of a synthesis of everything else I've done," McGlynn tells CBC Arts. "I don't necessarily write with the intention of something being a comedy or drama — I just want it to be scorchingly true. I tend to make films about women who are struggling to address painful truths about their identity or existence. I grew up in a large family of women, so I think that territory is quite familiar to me."
I tend to make films about women who are struggling to address painful truths about their identity or existence. I grew up in a large family of women, so I think that territory is quite familiar to me.- Molly McGlynn , filmmaker
While filmmakers often build their first features from their own experiences, McGlynn says that while Mary Goes Round is quite a personal film for her, it's not autobiographical.
"There are certain struggles I've had personally and in my relationships that certainly come through," McGlynn says. "Mary is kind of a darker version of me at the most difficult time of my life — if I didn't have the support system I have — after my mother passed away. I am not Mary though, nor is this a 'dear diary' transcription. Mary is extremely closed off and I am not. I worked really hard to take an idea that I felt a core impulse towards and write and shape and re-shape it into a story that I knew a lot of people would connect to. It's about a person who can't come to her own truths and has a complicated family dynamic, in particular with her father — something that's familiar with a lot of people."
As for the actress who plays Mary, McGlynn admits she was "obsessed" with You're The Worst, specifically noting a storyline on the show where Cash's character goes through a serious depression that "ripped her heart out."
"I had never seen someone depressed on TV who was actually what a depressed person is," McGlynn says. "I was blown away by the authenticity of her performance and I knew she'd be a perfect Mary — a person who walks the tightrope of humour and repressed pain. She is unbelievable to watch work. She knocks almost everything right out of the park. She just understood the script and the tone right away. I felt like we won the lottery when she agreed to do the movie."
That lottery win was long time coming for McGlynn, a graduate of the Writer's Lab at the Canadian Film Centre who has steadily been working toward her first feature by churning out short films almost annually. It was a process she would only recommend to those who really, really want it.
"If there is anything else you want to do or are drawn to, seriously think about doing that," McGlynn says about what she'd say to aspiring filmmakers. "I don't mean to be negative, but this industry is relentless and not for the faint of heart. I've struggled at points in my career. To succeed, I think you have to know that this is it for you."
She also advises not to care so much about how you look on social media.
"Yeah, cool, go to some parties and network or whatever, but ultimately do the work," she says. "You can meet the most important person, agent, producer, etc. in the world and have a cool outfit on, but if they ask to read your script and you don't have it, you're a bit screwed."
Thankfully for us, McGlynn has done the work — and Mary Goes Round is surely only the beginning of her proving it.
Mary Goes Round. Toronto International Film Festival. Sunday, September 17 at 2:30pm. Scotiabank Theatre. www.tiff.net