Mary and Max is an independent claymation flick from Australia, with a darkly comic theme about a lonely and misunderstood 8-year-old girl who strikes up an unlikely and disturbing correspondence and friendship with a 48-year-old overweight depressive male diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. While that sounds unlikely enough as a topic for an animated film, what was truly unexpected was the moving power of its simple message, achieved without resorting to sentimentalism or cliche.
The film, apparently based on a true story, plays like Wallace and Gromit conceived by Oliver Sacks and imagined by David Lynch and Robert Crumb. The animated characters, who tend to be overweight with exaggerated melancholy expressions, are nevertheless enormously expressive - and the film seamlessly shifts from the muted colors of the rundown Australian suburb where Mary lives to the expressive black and white of Max's New York City.
Mary (Toni Collette) is a curious and lonely girl, whose father is unavailable and whose mother is an alcoholic kleptomaniac and whose neighbors are each in their own way inscrutable. Confronted by questions the adults around her are unwilling to answer, she selects Max's name at random from an American phonebook and writes an inquisitive letter to a complete stranger. Initially thrown for a loop by this unexpected query, Max detects a kindred spirit and responds to her letter with complete sincerity. So begins a peculiar correspondence, fraught throughout with misunderstanding but culminating in a lifelong friendship that is able to carry them both through a great deal of personal misfortune and tragedy.
The voice of Phillip Seymour Hoffman invests the character of Max with a deeply sincere confusion about the peculiar games that people play. A card carrying communist and atheist, he nevertheless wears the skullcap he wore as a child, when his mother taught him babies came from egg-laying rabbis. He is honest to a fault, incapable of saying the kinds of things people like to hear; his imaginary friend, a psychiatrist by the name of Mr. Ravioli, stopped speaking to him after his real psychiatrist convinced him he was no longer necessary.
Mary and Max was dark and tender and strange and disconcerting and lovely. Its simple theme, conveyed lightly and through dark circumstance, is captured in a concluding quotation by Ethel Mumford: "God gave us relatives. Thank God we can choose our friends."
on February 2, 2010
One thing animation does very well is give us great art. But what it rarely does is actually create realistic human characters with all their inconvenient imperfections. This movie does both...and I consider "Mary and Max" one of the most daring films of 2009.
Those familiar with the animator - Adam Elliot - may recall he won an Oscar for "Harvie Krumpet" in the category of
short animated films. This film is his major oevre, an expanded version of the shorter film, albeit with different characters.
Ostensibly, the story is about a friendship between two unlikely partners. Max is an overweight, depressed, New York Jew suffering from serious mental illness. Mary is 8 years old, chubby, and confused. Both are lonely and underappreciated...and through the chance occurrence of a letter from Mary to Max, they develop a deep and real
friendship as pen pals.
Now, in many respects, both characters are very flawed human beings. And that is what makes the film remarkable. So many animated films from Finding Nemo to Beauty and the Beast end with a successful quest of the hero and heroine. This storyline is far more subtle. Both Mary and Max battle the everyday troubles of modern life - finding a way to fit in a world when they don't fit in at all. Searching for an influence on this movie in the history of cinema, I might select the Oscar best picture "Marty" which filmed a love affair between two ordinary people in the 1950's.
I cannot finish the review without saying something about the extraordinary recreation of New York City in ClayMation. I rather liked the fact the film uses claymation for the characters because it renders them far more "earthy" than the bright, digital CGI formula so popular today.
This is a film with dark moments and tender moments and annoying moments...in sum a film about life as it is really lived.
From Academy Award-winning Australian director Adam Elliot, maker of the wonderfully weird and demented Harvie Krumpet (Best Animated Short, 2004 -- you can see it on YouTube), comes another equally weird and demented new animation called "Mary and Max". His work is not very well known in the US, but it's fantastic and should be more widely seen by fans of animation and dark, morbid humor.
It is the story of an unlikely friendship that develops between a chubby, homely, and socially maladjusted 8 year old girl in Melbourne, Australia named Mary Daisy Dinkle and a severely overweight and neurotic middle-aged Russian-Jewish man in New York with Asperger syndrome, named Max Jerry Horowitz. Mary has no friends and is taken care of by her alcoholic and kleptomaniac mother. On a chance visit to the post office, she finds an American phonebook and decides to write to someone to ask where babies come from while her mother tries to steal boxes of envelopes. The name she randomly chose was Max's, whom she sends a letter and a candy bar. They share a love for chocolate, a Smurfs-like show called The Noblets, and a need for friendship. In each other, they find kindred spirits and what follows is two decades of humorous correspondence and weird gift exchanges.
Voiced by an almost unrecognizable Phillip Seymour Hoffman, he plays the part of Max perfectly. There are no words to convey the frequency and weirdness of the deadpan humor. You'll just have to watch it. Literally every minute or two is filled with some weird joke, dialog, or visual gag. Owing to Max's autism, there's a lot of random humor and non sequiturs. This is probably the only animation where you'll see a "feline rectal thermometer" or learn that "turtles can breathe through their anuses" (which is actually true).
The film is wonderfully stylish and richly detailed. The film takes place between the 1970's and 1990's and is full of nostalgic images from that time, with some very nice modeling of a grimy New York City. Visually, everything in Mary's world is monochromatic brown, and everything in Max's is black and white, punctuated by spots of color like in Sin City. It deals with loneliness, depression, atheism, and above all, friendship.
Lastly, I need to mention that this is DEFINITELY not one for the kids, if you are expecting wholesome family entertainment like Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Collection [Blu-ray]. The film is filled with abundant adult-themed humor, numerous sexual references, as well as instances of cartoony nudity. It is dialog driven and likely to bore them anyway. Well worth seeing if you like dark and quirky humor.
on April 25, 2011
Bored, nothing on TV, watched all of the Jericho episodes ever made, what to watch now? Thankfully NetFlicks had updated their movie selection, and I saw Mary & Max on the list. I had no preconceptions about the film, just a mild curiosity.
The smooth narration drew me into a story the likes of which I have never heard before. The plot is summarized already, though I'd like to point out that there are inconsistencies in the summary, but nothing too bad. I'd like to tell you how the movie made me feel.
First, it was hilarious. There was a gentle observational humor that was even more poignant because the observers are so different from the average person. The very serious topic of mental differences** was handled with delicacy, never overwhelming the viewer with pity for the subject, Max, while at the same time instilling an appreciation of how others can see life differently without being wrong. I loved how Max was often presented as being the sanest person in a city of "normal" people.
Despite what the summary says about Max's counterpart, Mary, was not a "goth". She was a lonely little girl whose physical differences, rather than mental ones, separated her from the rest of society. In Max she found a compatriot; they enjoyed the same cartoons, they had both endured teasing as children, and both were baffled by human emotions and what to do with them.
Though the story takes a dark turn, the ending brings redemption and bittersweet closure to a tale that I recommend to everyone.
** Mary & Max made me want to strike "mental illness/handicap/disability" from my vocabulary. So I am.
on January 12, 2012
Oh my. What can I say? I just saw this movie on the Sundance channel, and now I have to own it.
I didn't know what to expect. I had never heard of this movie before. What a lucky surprise!
Embracing being an outsider
I was so moved by this claymation film, at the movie's end I was overwhelmed for a few seconds.
"God gave us relatives. Thank God we can choose our friends."
What a gem.
on June 18, 2010
Although the product description doesn't say, this DVD also includes the superb short "Harvie Krumpet," so it is not necessary to purchase that DVD separately. In fact, it is probably another reason to get this amazing movie.
on June 1, 2011
This self development review is on 'Mary and Max' - a 2009 film, written and directed by Academy Award-winning Australian director Adam Elliot. What is so unusual is that it is a clayography film, with all 200 sets, 212 puppets and 2,000 props being handmade from clay polymers, clays, plastics and metals.
MARY AND MAX - THE STORY
The actual story is about two lonely characters - Mary and Max. The characters are beautifully crafted, both physically and metaphorically. Mary is eight years old and lives in Australia. She has no friends, her mother is an alcoholic and a kleptomaniac, and her father is never there for her. The story begins with her wondering where babies come from in other countries as she has been told that, in Australia, they are found in the bottom of beer glasses.
To find out once and for all, she decides to ask someone in the USA by picking their name and address randomly from an American phone book. The lucky chap is Max who turns out to be Russian-Jewish with Asperger syndrome, in his 40s, depressed, neurotic, over-weight and is not able to handle everyday life and society in general.
They start to write to each other and exchange letters, postcards and packages over two decades - from the 1970s to the 1990s. The two lonely souls find `true friendship' in each other.
MARY AND MAX - THE EMOTIONS
It is a very moving film and you will experience many different emotions. Even though the characters are simply clay, you really feel for them. They make you laugh, cry and above all, think!
A huge number of subjects is covered including - in alphabetical order - agoraphobia, alcoholism, anxiety, Asperger syndrome, autism, being overweight, bullying, confidence, depression, friendship, kleptomania, loneliness, mental health, neglect, personal misfortune, phobias, poverty, relationships, self confidence, self esteem, suicide, tragedy and true friendship.
Many of these are pretty heavy subjects but they are treated with great empathy and sensitivity. In the past I have worked with children and adults with autism, Asperger syndrome, etc., and feel that the austistic traits were portrayed very intelligently.
MARY AND MAX - THE SELF DEVELOPMENT
My particular interest in this film was from a self development point of view. This is the story of two people, from completely different points on the globe, who are brought together in time. This connection allows them to self develop in a way that they could never have done without the other. The film is about two people trying to figure out who they really are, what life is really about and learning about their own self development through each other over a 20 year period.
MARY AND MAX - THE DETAIL
This is a film you actually need to watch twice in order to see all the bits you missed the first time round. So much happens in the background and with all the other creations in the numerous sets. There is also a lot of fascinating information related to the film such as "12 litres of water-based sex lube being used to create everything from tears to a surging jungle river." The detail of the clay animation or claymation is quite incredible, with the 92-minute film taking nearly five years to make with six people producing just four seconds of film a day!
MARY AND MAX - THE SUSPENSE
The film keeps you in suspense throughout. The story grips you. Throughout, you wonder what on earth could happen next. As just a tiny example, to find a 'cure' for Max's problems Mary decides to study psychiatry, doing a PhD thesis on Asperger syndrome. The story then takes a totally expected turn. Like most of the film, just when you think you know where things are heading they go in a completely different direction.
Be warned that this is not really a children's film. Overall, it has a rather dark storyline with a fair amount of morbid or black humour. It is not a film to make you warm and happy inside. The content and themes can be disturbing, even for adults!
MARY AND MAX - SUMMARY
I highly recommend this film, especially from a self development point of view, but it is not for the faint-hearted. I would certainly watch this film again as there is much you miss the first time round.
on August 8, 2014
Quirky, melancholy, at times funny, poignant, touching, and at times graphic and inappropriate.... Story about a penpal relationship that develops between an older New York City gentleman with aspergers disorder, and an eight year old girl in Australia. It is a rather unique and creative animated film, that evidently was based in part upon a true story.
Our eight year old and I picked out this movie as it came up with other children/family choices. From the title, description, and trailer, it seemed like a good family movie. I am fairly liberal and so is my wife, and this movie clearly is not for children. I'm surprised that it was not rated. If it were a movie, I would think that it would at least have an R rating. I think there should have been some warning or disclaimer in the description that indicated this was not for younger children. I hope that Amazon is able to put some description or warning about this.
on January 5, 2012
Mary & Max is the story of an unlikely friendship of two seemingly lost souls.
Mary Daisy Dinkle is an optimistic 8 year old living in Australia. Mary's mother's favorite things in life are her ciggys, shoplifting, sherry and telling her daughter that she was a mistake. Her father has the most comically dull job on Earth and spends his free time, not with Mary but in a backyard shed drinking Bailey's Irish Cream and stuffing road kill.
Through all this Mary still tries to smile and seeks answers to questions that all children have that she can't get answered. In her desire for a friend she picks at random a listing from a New York phone book and decides to write to this stranger hoping to have a pen pal.
She chooses Max Jerry Horowitz, mid forties Jewish atheist, who contends with Asperger Syndrome. Max, who also has no friends is taken aback by this but writes back to Mary starting a 22 year relationship.
The film is very funny, very dark but shows how these two cope with life, each other and a world that neither can really grasp. Mary's enthusiasm is a pure delight to watch and despite suffering with mental illness, Max is very very wise in his observations and insights.
This is NOT a film for children in any way shape or form, so parents PLEASE screen this then make up your minds of how suitable it is for younger viewers. This is not Wallace & Grommit by any stretch of the imagination. It is a beautiful, powerful, touching and funny story that is brilliantly written and breathtakingly shot. The music is perfect and adds so very much to the experience.
It's a crime that this magnificent film wasn't at least nominated for an Academy Award for best Animated Film.
When young and friendless Mary picks a name and address from a phone book from someone who lives in the US to ask where babies come from in America, unbeknownst to her, the name she picks to correspond with belongs to a forty-four year old man called Max who lives a very solitary life in New York City.
They begin a friendship of sorts in letters from Mary in Australia and Max in New York. Mary's parents are less than perfect and have multitudes of hang ups of their own while in secret Mary asks much advice from over-weight Aspie, Max. Mary's letters to Max usually end up in Max having a rather huge nervous reaction.
This is a very interesting and unique claymation movie. It's mature and sensitive and tells a tragic tale of friendship. It's not for young kids as Max's explanations of things to young Mary are frought with adult viewpoints; he has Aspergers and is not able to flower things up.
I enjoyed this movie but had not known it would be so sad. It is very sad but uplifting at the same time. I watched it on a cold rainy day which deemed it appropriate for this colorless, grey screened film that has only touches of color with things like Mary's alcoholic mother's bright red lips and a cheery red pom pom that Mary makes Max which he wears on his capped brain.
If you like claymation movies this one is tops. It's brilliant. On the same brilliant level it deals with depressing topics such as lonliness, Aspergers, being over-weight and being different than the rest of the world, alcoholism, and it has a message about how sometimes what you are looking for is right there and so much time is spent wanting and seeking perfection in life. This is a good movie but it's not a kids claymation event. It's a thoughtful romp in the lives of two different minded folks who are far less than perfect.