Mary and Max
Dir: Adam Elliot
It is rare that a film is both heart warming and heart breaking at the same time, but 2009's Mary & Max is a wonderful exception. Adam Elliot has excelled himself after the success of his short film Harvey Krumpet - which was a hard act to follow - and has cemented himself as one of my favourite writer/directors of all time (just after two films). Mary & Max is a claymation (I hate that description) tale to be cherished, although your enjoyment is probably based on your general outlook on life. Are you a half full or half empty sort of person, can you see the silver lining to every cloud, can you see truth beyond the fog of uncertainty and do you see beauty in that which is generally considered ugly? If not, Mary & Max can still show you the way, just give them that chance and you will be rewarded. If you’re a sour old philistine who loves a bit of glorious misery from time to time (like me) then I envy you seeing this for the first time - I wish I could again. Inspired by Elliot’s own pen-pal relationship of twenty years, Mary and Max tells the story of a young Mary (voiced by Toni Collette) who lives in Australia. Lonely, bullied and neglected by her mother and stepfather, Mary only has her pet rooster Ethel for company. One afternoon she visits the local post office with her mother and spots a New York City phone book near a phone booth. On uncharacteristic impulse, she decides to pick an address at random and write to the occupant, who turns out to be Max (voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman), an obese Jewish atheist in his mid-forties who has Asperger’s syndrome. The pair write to each other and form a close bond but are constantly effected by their social anxiety, depression and families. The things that happen to the pair are hilarious and utterly tragic at the same time. Both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette are brilliant in their voice work but I love that the whole film is narrated by Barry Humphries. Mary and Max is the only film I can think of that not only explores subjects such as autism (Asperger syndrome in particular), childhood neglect, loneliness, isolation, depression and anxiety, but represents them honestly. What movie producer wants to try and sell a film with those subjects and who really wants to go and see it? Adam Elliot has taken things that people don’t talk about, things that are still ridiculously taboo and has made an honest, funny and touching film about them, that is terrifically entertaining and universal. The animation itself is perfect, I am sure it was as painstaking as it looks (Filming lasted over fifty-seven weeks, using one hundred and thirty-three sets, two-hundred and twelve puppets and four-hundred and seventy-five props, including Max’s fully functional typewriter that took nine weeks to design and build alone) but very much worth it. The choice to make it mainly black and white and in muted colours was also brilliantly conceived and it should be regarded as one of the most remarkable neo-noirs of the last few decades. It’s of a unique sort of humour but one that I adore, there is no other film like it, it’s a true gem and one of my very favourites.