(2009) director Adam Elliot
Shot in muted colors, Mary and Max is an odd little stop-motion animation film. It’s muted and downbeat visual style ties in with the sad but heart-warming story of Mary, a little girl from Australia who strikes up a pen pal friendship with a middle-aged New Yorker named Max. They are both victims of osctacism and loneliness, but their odd friendship and long-time epistulary relationship offers them both just that small amount of happiness that allows them to blossom (to an extent).
The whole design aesthetic of filmmaker Adam Elliot’s film is one of a humorously awkward, yet gloriously detailed world, with all the characters bearing some twisted or wonky nature to their appearance. Mary’s Australia is sepia-toned, where everything is brown, including her favorite color and a rather unpleasant birthmark that resides on the middle of her forehead. Max’s New York City is even more muted, pretty much black and white, save for the items of color (brown usually) that Mary sends him in her care packages.
Mary is an 8 year old, with an alcoholic mother and a varying grasp on reality, when she grabs at random an address from a New York phone book and starts a letter-writing communication with a highly neurotic, overweight a-theistic Max, who eventually is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. The film opens with a statement that it’s “based on a true story”, though for obvious reasons that is kind of doubtful throughout. However, as Mary matures and becomes interested in psychology, largely inspired by her desire to help Max, you kind of wonder.
The film is quite dark, not just visually, but in its exploration of loneliness and isolation, mental illness, and death. But it also has great humor and a great love for its characters, really achieving something emotionally at its core, which is what certainly makes it stand out more than anything.
The film is Australian and features voice acting by Toni Collette, Eric Bana, Barry Humphries (Dame Edna), and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Max. It’s not a film that I’d heard of, until I was turned onto it by a friend, so it’s relatively obscure. It’s a unique thing, a very unusual story, with interesting oddball characters, painted in a singular set of designs, but more than anything, it is quite touching and quite enjoyable. 2009 was a great year for animation, and Mary and Max should be added to any list that mentions the others Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Coraline (2009), Ponyo (2008), and Up (2009). But unlike those others, this one might be for the slightly older children.