Mary and MaxReviewed By Slyder
Posted 01/19/09 08:23:49
Mary and Max was the premiere film of the Sundance Film Festival, and boy was it a great premiere. Not only did we meet the director and producer of the movie Adam Elliott and Melanie Coombs before and after the movie, but the movie itself was a great effort. An animated film, consisting of Claymation and animated drawings, and containing very involving story concerning a young Aussie girl and an elder Jewish man in New York and their pen-pal friendship they develop over a span of several years, was received with a huge round of applause by the audience and for good reason; not since watching The Iron Giant had I been so moved by an animated film. Not only was it funny and touching, but it was also an insightful view towards humanity in general and all the flaws and quirks that ultimately make us who we are.1976, in suburban Australia, Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Bethany Whitmore [younger] and Toni Collette [older]) is an 8-year-old introverted kid; she hasn’t had the best of upbringings, as she’s the target of constant picking of schoolmates due to her “poop-like” birthmark on her forehead. It also doesn’t help that Mary’s mother is a shoplifting drunkard and her father works at a pathetic job in a tea factory. Burdened by several questions ranging from sex to fear to isolation and to life itself and longing to have a friend, Mary spots a New York phonebook and decides to pick a name out of the blue from it in order to start a pen-pal correspondence. The lucky recipient of Mary’s mail turns out to be Max Jerry Horowitz (voiced by Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a middle aged man suffering from Asperger’s syndrome and quite the fat character. Oh, and he’s also Jewish and doesn’t believe in God. Max has had also a very tough childhood, abused by his peers, isolated from the world and also longing for a friend who isn’t imaginary. He suffers from high anxiety, to which he goes for treatment with a Dr. Hazelhoff, and loves to eat “chocolate hotdogs.” Max’s reaction to Mary’s letter doesn’t necessarily fall well with his paper-thin stability, though he manages to write Mary back. Surprised and overjoyed that Mary has found a potential pen pal, she continues to write letters to him with even more questions, therefore launching a surprising mail relationship which is destined to affect and change their lives from there onwards, for better and for worse.
Huge kudos for Adam Elliott and his claymation/animation team, their creations of Mary’s town and Max’s New York feel so genuine and real you almost forget that you’re looking at an animated picture. Muted in colors, Mary’s Australian suburb contains a brownish color to it, evoking a dry and desolate background, which fits Mary’s mood to a glove, whereas New York is a very dark, almost black-and-white-ish landscape covered with filth, cigarette butts and decaying structures. Such grim landscape hints towards a film-noir type of feel, but it’s gleefully undercut by Elliott’s use of extreme crude humor (involving chocolate, condensed milk, and all kinds of human and animal fluids) as well as Barry Humphries’s playful and hilarious narration.
That said however, it’s definitely not a kid’s movie as serious adult themes are explored throughout the picture. Among the themes of sex, anxiety, depression and isolation, death is also a looming presence throughout the entire film. Elliott however handles all these issues with such humor and honesty that not only manages to extract laughter from the audience, but keeps them intrigued and entertained about what will happen next in Mary and Max’s relationship long enough to actually care for them. Even when a overeager moment by Mary to reach out to Max and help him “cure” him from his problems threatens to break the relationship and their lives apart, you long for these two to get back together and even more, culminate their relationship by meeting each other face to face.The film ultimately ends on a tragic note but not before piecing together a moving message about friendship and humanity that will linger on the viewer long after he has left the theater. Mary and Max are both flawed characters, physically or emotionally, but it’s these features that ultimately make both of them human beings and also the best and most caring of friends. For a claymated/animated film, this one feels incredibly real, and it’s certainly one of the most enjoyable and poignant films that I’ve seen this year. Adam Elliott is unquestionably a highly talented filmmaker and a man to watch in the future, and here’s hoping that this awesome first feature finds a wider audience in the coming months. 5-5
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