Lucy Morrow’s dad is on death row, so every week or so her sister Martha and brother Benjamin go to anti-death penalty protests around the U.S. The protesters have become a sort of family over the years, and on the other side of the picket line is another family: death penalty supporters.
At one protest, Lucy (Ellen Page) sees a blonde woman across the way looking at her and smiling. It’s the daughter of a police officer whose partner had been killed, and the killer is about to be executed. Nevertheless, the woman, Mercy (Kate Mara), walks across to Lucy’s trailer and strikes up a conversation.
One of the joys of My Days of Mercy is seeing Kate Mara flirt unapologetically with Ellen Page. Mara is the definition of hard femme, while Page presents as more obviously queer, and Mara does not skip a beat. There’s no mistaking her intentions, making Page uncomfortable as she obviously likes a woman who sees the pending execution of Lucy’s father (Elias Koteas) as reasonable.
But that doesn’t stop their relationship from flourishing. First, they go out to a bar; then they meet up at a second protest, where they move from flirtation to action with sex scenes loaded with passion and intimacy that neither seem totally familiar with at first. Lucy brings Mercy home with her, and it’s there we hear the first recounting of why the father is on death row. Mercy, a lawyer, offers to help Lucy, Martha (Amy Seimetz) and Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell) Morrow with access to a crime lab that could re-examine the evidence in their father’s case. This help could exonerate him, but it could also condemn him, a traumatic possibility for the sisters.
The performances are universally good with Mara giving a career best here. No longer should she be overlooked in favor of her younger sister, Rooney; here she appears comfortable in her skin and confident in her abilities to handle both the comedic and dramatic parts of the role. Page also finally gets the queer role that it seems she’s been waiting her whole career to play.
A romantic drama about the death penalty is a hard concept to pull off, but the film handles the dual conflict of Lucy’s relationship with her father and her relationship with Mercy with a lot of grace. And even when there are new beginnings for the characters at the end of the film, it doesn’t take the easy way out of allowing reconciliation without work. People make mistakes for which they have to atone, rejecting easy answers to questions of forgiveness and blame.