In My Days of Mercy, Lucy (Ellen Page) falls for another woman, named Mercy (Kate Mara), after they meet-cute outside a federal penitentiary where an execution is being conducted. Lucy is there to protest the death penalty and Mercy is there to support her father, who’s serving as a witness to the execution of his former police partner.
Their eyes meet from across the picket lines, and a relationship quickly develops as Mercy pursues Lucy from protest to protest. The title is, of course, a play on the character’s name and the very subject matter of the death penalty, the latter of which turns out to be a personal issue for Lucy: Her father is on death row for supposedly killing her mother in cold blood. It’s a corny title that feels fitting but makes the movie sound dorkier than it is: It’s really pretty affecting.
As far as LGBTQ romances go, Mercy feels a bit throwback in some respects, including the resolution to the romance; no spoilers, but “discovering the hidden boyfriend” feels like a trope we don’t need to see so frequently these days. But it’s nice that neither character sets boundaries on their sexuality or tries to define themselves simply for the audience, and the tenderness between Page and Mara translates to a believable love affair.
Page as Lucy, and her emotional journey in dealing with familial tragedy, represents the key to the entire movie. Her father’s guilt or innocence is legally decided, but her older sister Martha (Amy Seimetz) drags her and her younger brother from protest to protest, trying to make sense of the tragedy that befell their family. In quiet moments, though, Lucy knows it’s not likely her father is innocent; in the few moments we see him, behind prison glass, we get the impression her halcyon memories of a laughing, hugging family might not be entirely accurate. As sweet as it is to see her and Mercy meet, it’s equally compelling to see the trauma through which Mercy allows her to work.
At first, My Days of Mercy feels like a seen-it-before doomed romance with a hint of social commentary. But as it picks up steam, it becomes an intimate character study. Page rarely gets a chance to shine in this kind of complex role, and she does great work here. Mercy premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival to positive reviews but largely disappeared until this year, when it received a limited theatrical release and broader availability as a Video-On-Demand title. Seeing as how 2019 has been a serious wasteland for adult dramas with internal life and emotion, Mercy is a nice gift from the past.