“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” opens with one of the strangest meet cutes in recent memory: Slacker dog-walker Mark (Ben Rosenfield) and brash singer Mary (Hayley Law) reconnect for the first time since college at a convenience store, where the former joins the latter in the bathroom — eventually singing loudly and crazily to boot — while she takes a pregnancy test. That introduction is emblematic of the jaunty weirdness of Hannah Marks’ romantic comedy, which concerns its protagonists’ ensuing decision to attempt an open relationship. Embellishing stock formula with plenty of personality, it’s the type of indie effort that’s tailor-made for the Tribeca Film Festival (where it premiered in competition) and could, potentially, attract a loyal following.
With a jokey ’70s mustache and matching curly hair, Mark is a good-natured goof whose self-possessed oddness (exemplified by his collaboration with his father on a “life cup” birth control device that works with saliva) is ideally suited for Mary, a Black rocker with long braids and a dreary day job recording voiceovers for commercials for the likes of menopause vaginal dryness lubricants. In the blink of an eye, they get hitched and spend their honeymoon tripping on mushrooms. Their euphoric bliss, however, is cut short by a subsequent comment from Mary’s sister (Sofia Bryant) about the unnaturalness of monogamy. Fearful of the “crusty” adult she’s becoming, Mary musters up the courage to ask Mark if he’d be game for a situation she dubs “ethical non-monogamy” — an amusing euphemism that’s typical of Marks’ sharp script, which humorously trades in of-the-moment slang, terms and political-correctness concerns.
Having just committed to arm tattoos of each other’s names in hearts, Mark isn’t eager to share his wife with others. Yet after setting basic ground rules designed to protect their bedrock union, they embark on a nightly barrage of carnal encounters. It’s no surprise that this scenario is headed for disaster, and that said calamity will come equipped with a twist, but Rosenfield and Law are such a likable duo — he clownish and earnest in equally uninhibited fashion, she brazen and fierce with an underlying sweetness — that the film remains amusing and spry even as it coasts along a path that will feel familiar to most rom-com fans, and especially to anyone who’s seen 1994’s “Threesome” or HBO’s documentary from earlier this year, “There Is No ‘I’ in Threesome.”
Thanks to cinematographer Casey Stolberg and composer Patrick Stump (as well as brief animation and ’70s-era title cards), the film has an aesthetic verve that serves its momentum well, and its supporting players — notably Bryant as Mary’s sibling and Matt Shively as Mark’s best friend, along with cameos from Lea Thompson, Gillian Jacobs, Joe Lo Truglio and Steve Little — help keep the action energized throughout. Similarly inspired is the movie’s playful critique of millennials and their supposedly enlightened attitudes about gender and sex, which manifests itself through the inevitable turmoil wrought by Mark and Mary’s myriad bedroom romps. As the couple’s experience suggests, every generation is destined to learn similar lessons about the difficulty of having things both ways, and the preeminent happiness that comes from being together with the one you truly adore.
Marks introduces further climactic complications only to then resolve them too easily, missing out on even thornier dramatic dilemmas in the process. Nonetheless, a bittersweet finale allows her sophomore feature to function as an alternately silly and poignant cautionary tale about the fragility of love.