Mark, Mary & Other People‘s narrow-minded treatment of open relationships would make for a fantastic double feature with any episode of The 700 Club.
It’s fairly remarkable that there has yet to be a film made that addresses the topic of open relationships — or any of the myriad configurations found under the umbrella of ethical non-monogamy — in a way that isn’t reductive or otherwise grossly conservative in its views. This is especially perplexing in the indie film scene, which has always been more liberal in its portraits of relationships and sexuality. But here we are, in 2021, with Mark, Mary & Some Other People, writer-director Hannah Marks’ take on modern-day marriage and monogamy that feels like a product of a bygone era. Things don’t exactly start on a promising note, as we are introduced to the titular Mark (Ben Rosenfield) and Mary (Hayley Law) through an extended meet-cute in a convenience store that involves a pregnancy test and a sing-along in a public restroom. Smash cut to one year later, and the two are married and enjoying life as blissful newlyweds. It’s only upon a friend’s casual discussion of an online dating app that Mary begins to wonder if she would like to pursue other sexual partners, an idea that initially sends Mark reeling, but one he ultimately agrees to after a series of rules have been established. One sex-filled montage later, in which it is made explicit that the two are getting banged more than a drum, and it’s Mark who enjoys the arrangement more than he ever expected, while Mary begins to harbor doubts — because this film is nothing if not backwards in its views on female sexuality, going so far as to punish Mary the longer the movie progresses. This particular wrinkle seems especially heinous considering this was written and directed by a female, but that is par for the course for this particular sub-genre, where couples ultimately determine that open relationships are a death sentence for true love.
It’s hard to determine what Mark, Mary, etc. is ultimately trying to say on this particular subject, as the last half-hour is a clusterfuck of half-realized ideas and plot points. Like other films of this ilk, it might be that the message is that ethical non-monogamy is really just a cover for people not meant to be together, which is as narrow-minded a view as anything being put out by Hollywood. Or, maybe this is simply a portrait of two people who are meant to be together but who let their libidos get the best of them, which is still pretty gross and gravely lightweight. Marks seems as confused as her central couple, which wouldn’t be quite so obnoxious if the film wasn’t presented as a glorified sitcom. Rosenfield and Law do exhibit a fair amount of chemistry, but even they can’t seem to make heads or tails of the characters they are playing or what they are supposed to be thinking or feeling from one moment to the next. Surely, one day we will finally get a movie that takes the topic of open relationships seriously — right? tell me I’m right — one that isn’t afraid to present them in a progressive light and is willing to interrogate them with intelligence. For now, we are stuck with Mark, Mary & Other People (not a fun group to be with), which would make for a fantastic double-feature with any episode of The 700 Club.
Originally published as part of Tribeca Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 2.