- - -"He'd always wanted a friend. A friend that wasn't invisible, a pet or rubber figurine."- - -
FILM ONLY REVIEW
An animated Australian film narrated by Barry Humphries (better known as Dame Edna) sounds like one for kids, if not one to avoid. altogether
That the subject matter includes such topics as suicide, depression, loneliness, agoraphobia and Aspergers points to the fact that this definitely isn't one for children, but hardly makes it more appealing.
Max and Mary seems to escaped the public consciousness to some extent, but was a film that came highly recommended to me. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.
Beginning in 1976 and spanning 20 years, the film tells the story of Mary Dinkle, a lonely and rather nerdy young Australian girl with an alcoholic mother and a distant father. Choosing his name at random from a New York phone directory, Mary writes to a certain Max Jerry Horovitz. a middle aged, obese Aspergers syndrome sufferer, in search of an answer to a question that has been puzzling her: in America, are babies born in cola cans? *
Max has great difficulties with social interactions and an obsession with trivial subjects. Mary's letter, and the difficult and naïve questions she asks, causes a panic attack and almost a complete mental breakdown. Despite his misgivings, Max sends a reply, desperate for a friend and eager for Mary to answer some questions of his own: "Have you ever been a communist? Have you ever been attacked by a crow or similar large bird?"
This unlikely pairing become pen-friends, drawn together by their loneliness and common interests in chocolate and kids cartoon "The Noblets", which Mary enjoys because "everyone was brown, lived in a teapot and had oodles of friends" and Max because "they lived in a delineated and articulated social structure with constant adherent conformity and also because they had oodles of friends."
The film follows the progression of this "pen-friendship" as it develops throughout the years enveloping marriage, lotto wins and suicide attempts. Although each seems the ideal, perhaps only, friend possible for each other, the relationship is not without complications. Max is seemingly unable to cope with any kind of friendship, and their correspondence results in anxiety attacks for which he is later institutionalised.
As Max discovers the nature of his condition, he feels hurt and betrayed when Mary seems to think what, to Max, is an integral part of his personality is an illness that needs to be cured. The two seem to do each other as much harm as they do good. However, both are united in the loneliness and the reluctance of the world to accept them.
- - -"Dr. Bernard Hazelhof said if I was on a desert island, then I would have to get used to my own company - just me and the coconuts. He said I would have to accept myself, my warts and all, and that we don't get to choose our warts. They are part of us and we have to live with them. We can, however, choose our friends, and I am glad I have chosen you"- - -
Through their correspondence we see these two very different characters live their lives through the years; Mary turn from a young girl into a woman and Max come to terms with who he is. The question is, will Max and Mary be able to overcome seemingly insurmountable difficulties to finally meet face-to-face?
Max and Mary is an unusual and heart-warming tale that manages to be nostalgic and comforting yet also bleak and disturbing. In an era of text messaging, emails and facebook, a relationship like this would be completely different, if possible at all. The fact that all communication is through letters gives the film a slow, plodding place which only adds to its charm.
Despite my misgivings, Barry Humphries is perfect as the narrator, lending the film a whimsical tone whilst remaining somehow detached, making it seem fable-like. He is certainly helped by a brilliant script; thought-provoking, believable and possessing a genuinely funny dry wit.
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Max is understated and world-weary. Both he and Toni Collette and Bethany Whitmore (as the old and young Mary respectively) create three dimensional characters that the viewer can't help but love.
Neither of the central characters are reduced to stereotypes. In Max's case in particular, this would have been an easy trap to fall into. Instead, his eccentric traits are portrayed realistically and sensitively; part of his warm personality.
Other characters are secondary and seem to be deliberate stereotypes; the alcoholic mother, the effeminate husband and Mary's only other friend; an agoraphobic for whom she collects mail "He's scared of outside, which is a disease called homophobia".
Claymation films are notoriously difficult and time-consuming to make; each of the animators contributed just four seconds of animation each day. The result here though is a clear result of a labour of love. Each of the characters are beautifully realised and show real personality. Some of the facial animation in particular is nothing short of amazing. The worlds which the two main characters inhabit are shown in different colours; Mary's in sepia, Max's in stark black, white and grey.
To say it is the best animated film for adults I have seen would be damning it with faint praise; it tops a short list of one. So I will say that it is one of the best films I've seen this year.
Release date: 9 Apr 2009
Length: 92 mins
Writer & Director: Adam Elliot
Ratings: 8.2/10 IMDB
94 % Rotten Tomatoes
Family Suitability: Rated 12. An adult animation with some adult themes but I would recommend it to older, more mature children for the way it delves into a number of issues and for the sensitive way Max's condition is shown.
Price: Currently £4.19 on Amazon
Based on real life characters, Mary and Max is a hugely ambitious animated film about loneliness and acceptance. It is poignant, whimsical and charming but as far from sickly-sweet as you could get. Challenging and sensitive with regards to Max's Aspergers, it asks some difficult questions and never provides an easy answer. The characters, so alienated by the outside world, are so easy to love that we can't help but root for them. The nature of the film though, mean that a tragic ending is just as likely as the one for which we can't help but hope.
* By the way, the answer to Mary's question:
"Unfortunately, in America, babies are not found in cola cans. I asked my mother when I was four, and she said they came from eggs laid by rabbis. If you aren't Jewish, they're laid by Catholic nuns. If you're an atheist, they're laid by dirty, lonely prostitutes."
Released in 2009 and lasting 92 minutes this black humour animation starts off with Mary, an 8 year old Australian, living a lonely, and rather unhappy existence with her uncommunicative father and her alcoholic mother. Finding the address of Max, an overweight American with Asperger's, in a phone book she decides to write to him.
The two penpals communicate with each other, sharing information about their lives and interesting types of chocolate. The course of their friendship does not always run smooth, however, and the movie follows the twists and turns of their relationship as it develops.
This movie, although an animation, is not really suitable for children. It features black humour at parts and deals with themes of mental illness, alcoholism, suicide etc. and has an overarching feeling of despair surrounding a great deal of the movie. The animation itself is in keeping with the themes and often uses dark colours and shades of grey, particularly when depicting Max in New York.
The film is narrated throughout with a humourous and witty script but the little jokes made can sometimes be a bit close to the bone. The story is both heart-warming and upsetting at the same time with moments of genuine glee and others of tragedy. The story, however, is engaging and unusual and the animation is wonderful.
I would recommend this movie but as I said, not to children.
The year is 1976 and Mary Daisy Dinkle is a lonely 8 year old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. Her dad, Noel Norman Dinkle attaches the strings to teabags for a living and sits in his shed drinking Bailey's Irish Cream and dabbling in bird taxidermy whilst her mum, Vera Loraine Dinkle is a "wobbly" kleptomaniac. Max Jerry Horovitz is a 44 year old obese man living in New York who can't hold a job down and is constantly attending overeaters anonymous. The story of Mary and Max begins one day when Mary, desiring to know if babies also come from beer cans in America like they do in Australia (a perfectly reasonable question), randomly chooses Max out of the New York telephone book to write to. Max replies and the two become unlikely pen pals with an odd friendship that spans many years with a surprising influence over both their lives - but will they ever get the chance to meet?
Adam Elliot is the Australian writer and director of the film and "Mary and Max" represents his first step away from short films into feature length. He began in the claymation business (that's plasticine for us laypeople - imagine dark and twisty Wallace and Gromit) in 1996 with a trilogy of short films called Uncle, Cousin and Brother which are narrated animations from the view point of a boy/man named Adam, talking about the various members of his family with humorous, yet tragic undertones. This led on to the Oscar winning "Harvie Krumpet" which followed the amusing, yet rather tragic life of a Polish man born in 1922 who suffered from Tourette's Syndrome and a succession of misfortunes narrated by none other than Geoffrey Rush.
"Mary and Max" is quite simply an outstanding film which, as seemingly in all of Elliot's predecessors, encapsulates a wonderful contrast of comedy and tragedy by focusing on the struggles of characters situated well outside of the social norm in a visually stunning way. Firstly, the attention to detail is incredible in this film, with beautifully crafted models with an amazingly lifelike feel, not even mentioning the facial expressions that are possible with such tiny models. This film does also have a very dark, atmospheric feel to it, more noticeably with Max's part of the story which is set mostly in black and white, with the odd bit of colour dropped in to highlight important things. Mary's part has a bit more colour in it with a dull brownish tint, no doubt each colour sequence corresponding with the emotional place of our characters which exudes a high level of thoughtfulness.
I guess in recognition to the talent Adam Elliot is he was really able to pull in the big stars for this one - Toni Colette as Mary, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Max, Eric Bana as Damien, Mary's husband, and Barry Humphries (thankfully not as Dame Edna Everage) as the narrator. Their voices, at least for me, weren't instantly recognisable since they were either much exaggerated Australian twangs or depressed Jewish so it almost became irrelevant that they were such big names which allowed all the focus to remain solely on the characters and the plot which maintained an understated feel to the film. But, despite this, all the vocals were brilliant in their subtleties, particularly Philip Seymour Hoffman who was utterly believable as Max and was able to add such depths to his downcast nature and Toni Colette who, likewise had to deal with the darker elements of life, was able to contrast the ups and downs of Mary's life unfailingly.
As for the storyline, on paper it actually sounds a little thin on the ground, but the way the way the characters are brought to life it could have been about a trip to the supermarket and it would have still worked. There are such intricate social themes brought in which are actually highlighted in a surprisingly sensitive and subtly humorous way including bullying, neglect, anxiety, depression and as the main focal point, Asperger's Syndrome. Asperger's Syndrome was not really widely accepted until early 1980s and only became a standard diagnosis by 1992 so the timeframe of this film cleverly coincides with this psychology progression thus allowing for an undiluted view of the disorder in its rawest form at a time where there was little understanding which was compelling viewing.
What I liked particularly was how extremely descriptive Max was with, for example, associating weird smells to people and often describing things based upon counts and numbers, having absolutely no concept at all of what was appropriate to tell a young girl, taking things literally and many more eccentricities - these were all portrayed as if they were the most natural thing in the world, which of course they were for Max, which again gave fascinating insight into the nature of the disorder without any pretentions or prejudices, we were simply given an unopposed view and could interpret how we liked.
So, as I mentioned before, despite what appears to be pretty grim themes "Mary and Max" counterbalances this brilliantly with some great touches of humour mostly through the delivery of the narration by Barry Humphries, but also through accidental absurdities of Max himself, for example, when writing to an 8 year old girl most people would probably not think to ask such things as: "Have you ever been a communist? Have you ever been attacked by a crow or similarly large bird?". As for the narration it was the dry delivery that transformed the simple, yet very cleverly written statements of fact into something subtly humorous. Both the dialogue and the narration are superbly written and this is why the film works so well:
(Mary) "It was time to watch "The Noblets". She adored "The Noblets" because everyone was brown, lived in a teapot and had oodles of friends."
(Max) "He was 44 and liked "The Noblets" as they lived in a delineated and articulated social structure with constant adherent conformity and also because they had oodles of friends."
One other thing I should also mention is the soundtrack which is used very effectively with some wonderfully well known classical tunes that fit perfectly to the mood of the film such as "A Swingin' Safari", the gorgeous "Perpetuum Mobile" which somehow sums up "Mary and Max" perfectly with an air of almost a tragic hopefulness, "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)", not to mention Prokofiev's "Dance of the Knights (Montagues and Capulets) from Romeo & Juliet" - you know, the one from the Apprentice, as well as a whole host of others with Jewish connotations. It really is a superb soundtrack with each piece of music handpicked to suit the subtle mood changes in the film.
So, how to sum up such a brilliant film? This is a film that walks the tightrope between humour and tragedy without putting a foot wrong. It pulls you in with endearing characters and a beautiful friendship between the unlikeliest of people and will make you laugh at the absurdities and cry at the sadness of such a sensitive subject. And all this through the medium of plasticine. Adam Elliot is a genuine talent and has made an absolute masterpiece here. Long may he continue.
A series of sketches and sound effects in the early development stages - not particularly that interesting.
A series of 6 episodes about the making "Mary and Max" - these are all very funny and definitely worth a look at:
Episode 1 - Effectively Adam Elliot going round on scooter, Segway type thing. Bizarre!
Episode 2 - A jokey interview with the crew around health and safety such as people using drill bits to cut bread.
Episode 3 - An interview with Eric Bana who reveals how he was threatened into taking the job as the only way to keep his residential visa - hilariously tongue-in-cheek.
Episode 4 - A quick behind the scenes look at the first meeting with Barry Humphries, another jokey and amusing faux interview.
Episode 5 - A fly-on-the-wall look at how sets are taken apart through massive destruction techniques...before realising it had to be used for another wedding shot
Epsiode 6 - A journey around with Stephen Carroll to find out the day in the life of a runner - most enlightening.
These are two horrible alternative endings that probably would traumatise so it's a good thing they weren't used.
The screen test for young Mary - basically jus the young girl that played her, Bethany Whitmore sitting and reading some script - not all that interesting really.
Not really worth watching as there was no sound and just random repetition of a scene - a bit pointless.
===Two audio commentaries===
One for the visually impaired and one by director Adam Elliot.
An 8 minute interview with Adam Elliot, Gerald Thompson and Darren Burgess talking about how the sets were built and how the scenes are filmed as well as any issues faced during the production. You get to see how cute and small the sets are so for such a short piece it is definitely worth watching if you like behind the scenes stuff.
Very generously the award winning shot film "Harvie Krumpet" is supplied - this is a really great film much in the same style as "Mary and Max" and is also terrific to watch.
Mary and Max is one of those films that after I'd seen it I wanted to tell everyone about, it's that good but sadly when I mentioned it, I got a lot of blank expressions. I think it's a shame that it didn't have more exposure because it is one of the best films I've seen in a long time.
Mary and Max was released in 2009, directed and written by Adam Elliot. It's a claymation film and features a good cast of voices including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette and Eric Bana, however I didn't even really notice that it was them when I was watching. Is this proof that their voice acting is exceptional and I truly believed their voices as the character or, in fact as I suspect that celebrity voices aren't really need in animation if the script is good enough and are just there to pull in the crowds?
Mary and Max tells the story of Mary Dinkle, an 8 year old girl at the start of the film, who lives in Australia with her alcoholic mother. She doesn't have many friends and decides she'd like a pen pal. At random she picks out the name of Max Jerry Horowitz from a Manhattan phone book and writes to him. Max is also lonely, he's an overweight New Yorker who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome and anxiety attacks.
After a long wait, to Mary's delight, Max writes back and the two begin exchanging letters constantly as well as sending each other presents, usually unusual forms of chocolate which is one of the few things they have in common.
Over the course of their friendship Mary grows up and decides to write a book inspired by Max and his condition, not thinking how much it will upset him when he finds out. Could this be the end of their friendship or will they overcome it and will they ever meet? I don't want to give too much of the plot away, it surprised me in a number of places and this film was not at all what I was expecting. As you can imagine with Mary growing up a lot of things happen along the way, but at the risk of including spoilers I'll keep the plot brief.
The story of Mary and Max is good enough on it's own, it would be a gripping, heart warming and moving tale if it ware told using real actors in a straight forward way, however it's made an exceptional film by the unusual style in which it's told. For a start the claymation is fantastic, the film looks just brilliant. In fact you'll need to see it a few times to pick out all the detail as you just won't have enough eyes! The characters are quirky looking and cartoon like, but in such as way that you could really imagine what these people would look like if the were real. I think we've all seen a Mary and a Max at some point.
Don't go assuming, however, that because this is an animated film it's pretty and colourful and kid friendly, it's not. This film is virtually colourless and while a little off putting to begin with, you soon don't notice it, but it certainly adds a unique style and suggests as it should, that this is quite a serious story and the dark parts are made even more moving and atmospheric by the lack of colour.
In addition to the visual aspect, the fact that the story is told by letters to each other, we really get an understanding of the characters like you wouldn't get if this were told in any other way. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to warm to these to characters and ultimately really care what happens to them and their relationship. It's interesting too to see how they change throughout the story, particularly as Mary grows up. At the start, it's sweet and at times very funny the things that they talk about and the way that they misunderstand things in the world around them, Mary because she's a child and Max because he's a recluse. Some of the conversations had me in stitches and whilst this film has it's dark parts it's also incredibly funny. My favourite, an example is that Mary has a neighbour who she explains to Max is homophobic, which means he's scared to go out of his house!
Mary and Max not only is exciting visually, and has a great story but is also informative and raises a number of issues. It enlightened me to Asperger's Syndrome, and deals with issues including alcoholism and depression.
Essentially, it's a story about an unlikely friendship between a middle aged man and a little girl, and what I love it that it's all completely innocent. A friendship such as this these days would raise more than a few eyebrows as our society has become so cynical. And in fact this is commented on by the reaction of Mary's mother, though I won't give too much away. However it goes to show that true friendships can be formed regardless of age, where you're from and what issues you can and in fact can be strengthened by those differences.
In addition to this aspect of the friendship, the life story of Mary is incredible in itself, and would have made for an interesting film alone.
The best thing of all about Mary and Max is that this story is based on truth. I finished watching the film being very attached to Mary and Max, and whilst Mary is more fiction than fact, Max was based on a pen pal of writer director Adam Elliot who he had been writing to for over twenty years. I liked the fact that Max had really existed.
For me Mary and Max has everything and I guarantee you won't have seen anything like it before. The likelihood is you won't have caught it at the cinema as it was a strictly limited release over here, but make sure you catch it on DVD (it's available from the big online stores).
I can not recommend enough. The film is proof, if nothing else that an email with never replace how personal a letter can be.