The premise of Mark, Mary & Some Other People seems like it was precisely engineered to subvert the typical rom-com tropes: two old college acquaintances reconnect, sparking a romance that quickly ends up with them getting married. Yet after starting to question this sudden commitment they made to each other, they decide to give ethical non-monogamy a try. Once they open up their relationship, however, complications (predictably) arise.
Written, directed, and produced by Hannah Marks, Mark, Mary & Some Other People is a sex-positive romantic comedy intensely self-aware of its own genre and the expectations films and pop culture give us about relationships. Mary (Hayley Law) and Mark (Ben Rosenfield) have their first awkward on-screen encounter in a convenience store; it’s nowhere near the height of romance. Mary can’t quite place Mark when they reconnect, but he recognizes her right away; a spark of something already burning. But even the anti-meet cute is by this point itself a trope, and in the moments just before she gives him her number — when Mark is trying to distract Mary by singing loudly and badly to her in the bathroom as she waits for the results of her pregnancy test — most viewers can see the wheels of the romance plot already turning.
Most of the emotional buildup in a typical romance film leads up to the main couple getting together. Here, Marks slaps the titular pair together almost immediately, and instead of dwelling on their courtship and making the marriage make sense, she takes that as a given, leaving us with more time to watch their relationship mature or to follow their courtship of others. The progression of the story post-marriage can feel a little scattered and unfocused, but this feels fitting to the spirit of the characters. Mark and Mary are two young people who don’t seem to know what they really want. Maybe it’s each other; maybe it’s not. They don’t exist in binaries; they contain multitudes. They love one another and decide to get married, but they also want to be free and not tied down to anyone or anything. She is in a band, but also cleans houses; he fancies himself as an activist who rejects the capitalist system, but also walks dogs, unable to fully divorce himself from hustle culture.
Sometimes, these combinations of characteristics do not seem to cohere fluidly into internally consistent characters. There is never quite an adequate explanation of why Mark and Mary get married in the first place: as Mary tells her friends (the endlessly entertaining Odessa A’zion and Sofia Bryant), being married makes her feel old. She’s old enough to be at the right age to have a kid. Yet married she is, and to the film’s credit, it does not dwell too much on making things make sense, but allows the characters to feel authentic and realistic in their inconsistencies and uncertainties. While the ampersand before Some Other People and the film’s subject matter draw some inevitable comparisons to Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, the lack of an Oxford comma is perhaps the most important piece of punctuation in the title. Mark can sometimes feel like he is a bit of an observer-outsider in a story that seems mostly focused on Mary and her emotional journey rather than his, leading to a narrative that can feel a little unbalanced.
Despite the director’s own admitted lack of lived experience with non-monogamy, she has a great eye for examining modern relationships and finding the fun and humor in each moment and the joy and pleasure in even the most fleeting encounters between people. She is also not afraid of taking risks via unexpected plot developments or of allowing emotions that may initially seem at odds with one another to intermingle. While Mark initially feels blindsided and heartbroken by Mary’s announcement that she might not want to be exclusive with him, for example, this soon gives way to some playful experimentation as they try to help make each others’ dating profiles.
This is a film full of quick changes in mood and plot. As we would hope for a story that’s all about rebelling against tradition and how people are only monogamous because of societal pressure to conform, Marks breaks the narrative mold, creating a fresh piece of fiction that takes unexpected turns. This is met with mixed success, as the tone oscillates wildly between raunchy casual hookups and heart-wrenching conversations. Without giving any spoilers, after one particularly dramatic incident completely shakes up the couples’ life, we jump ahead to one year later, not quite knowing what happened to the characters in the interim. There are a few too many time jumps and montages to make the story feel cohesive and purposeful, and the third act in particular struggles to stick with a tone.
The story may be a little confused on what it wants to say, but it says it in style and with a sweetness that you can’t help but be charmed by. Viewers seeking deeper exploration of what successful ethical non-monogamy can look like might be left somewhat unsatisfied — yet as a sort of belated coming-of-age tale of romantic fumblings and how you might find yourself through relationships with others, this film still leaves us curious for what will happen to Mark and Mary, and what Hannah Marks will do next.