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Matt and Mara Review: Paper Thin Drama

Mounir Al Shami and Deragh Campbell stand on a crossroad in New York in Matt and Mara

Kazik Radwanski, Deragh Campbell and Matt Johnson reunite for Matt and Mara, an enjoyable but surface level look at a messy, forbidden relationship.

Kazik Radwanski’s third feature film, Anne at 13,000 ft, wasn’t far off something the Safdie brothers would make. It was a nerve wracking affair, with its central character a socially awkward person who constantly found herself in stressful situations. Radwanski’s follow-up, Matt and Mara, isn’t quite as anxiety inducing—a relief for those of a nervous disposition—but it still has that same quick-talking energy and breezy charm. Unfortunately, Matt and Mara also suffers from thinly constructed drama. It’s all well and good having fast and watchable dialogue, but with no real substance to it, the whole thing can become stilted.

Creative writing teacher Mara (an impressive Deragh Campbell, Anne at 13,000 ft) is about to enter her classroom when she feels a tap on her shoulder. It’s Matt (Matt Johnson, Blackberry), a friend from her past who she hasn’t seen for years. From here, the two build an undefined relationship. At the same time, Mara is having issues in her marriage—although these are frustratingly underexplored—to a musician (Mounir Al Shami), with whom she has a baby. Matt and Mara zips along at an energetic pace, bolstered by Campbell and Johnson’s riveting chemistry and compelling acting styles. There is a lightness to proceedings that feels at odds with what is dangerously close to becoming an affair.

Radwanksi’s script is comically strong; it is no surprise when Johnson and Campbell’s names flash up as additional writers in the end credits, considering how fresh and improvised much of the dialogue feels. Not all the comedy in Matt and Mara lands and occasionally the way characters speak feels unnatural, but overall it is an amusing ride. Unfortunately, there isn’t much here past that to keep things interesting. Matt and Mara doesn’t delve deep enough into the feelings or relationships of its characters, nor does it ever feel as thorny or as complex as it should. We don’t expect Eyes Wide Shut (1999) level, but there is nowhere near enough density to Matt and Mara’s various tangents or stories.

Mounir Al Shami plays the guitar for Deragh Campbell in Matt and Mara
Mounir Al Shami and Deragh Campbell in Matt and Mara, now at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival. (© 2024 MDFF / Berlinale)

Like Anne at 13,000 ft, Matt and Mara struggles to build on initial promise and largely fails to dig deeper than light comedy or surface level drama. A car journey later in the film is a highlight and showcases the best of the actors and the screenplay, whilst the ending is well done, but in the end, these impressive instances only highlight how flimsy everything else in Matt and Mara is.

Matt and Mara premiered at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival. Read our Berlin Film Festival reviews and our list of 20 films to watch at the Berlin Film Festival!

Anne at 13,000 ft Review: Understatedly Terrifying – Loud And Clear
Anne at 13,000 ft. is a uniquely and understatedly terrifying low-budget character study that plays like a psychological horror.
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