CAPSULE: Witty animation tells this story in just about the only way it could be told pleasantly. A lonely Melbourne eight-year- old picks a random name from a New York City phonebook and begins what will become a correspondence of many years. At the other end is a New York City man suffering from Asperger's syndrome. From opposite ends of the world the two can say anything to each other, and the clay animation lets us see what their minds' eyes are seeing. The story is wise and funny in ways it could not be in live action. Oscar-winner Adam Elliot directs while almost unrecognizably Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman voice the two main roles. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
This could be the golden age of animated films, but nearly always the films are have frothy, silly themes. Hamburgers fall from the sky or balloons pull a house up into it. Very rarely does a director with a serious theme use animation and give us a GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES or a WALTZ WITH BASHIR. Adam Elliot, who won the Best Short Animated Film Oscar in 2003 for "Harvie Krumpet" gives us the bittersweet epistolary relationship between Mary Daisy Dinkle and Max Jerry Horovitz. And it is all rendered in clay. Mary (voiced by Bethany Whitmore as a child, Toni Collette as an adult) is at the beginning an eight-year-old living a lower-class life in a suburb of Melbourne in 1976. Her mother seems to live on nipping sherry and stealing from the grocers. With a silly question about where babies come from she picks a random name, Max Jerry Horovitz, from a New York telephone book and writes to Max to find where babies come from in the United States. Max is, it turns out, a morbidly obese New York Jewish man who suffers from Asperger's syndrome. The unlikely couple forms a relationship that lasts for two decades. Each has bizarre viewpoints on the real world and the way the world is, and Elliot renders their minds' eye visions in animation. Their relationship is by turns comical and painful.
We look at Max's lonely life ruled by frequently pointless order. He is almost devoid of human companionship and happy to strike up a friendship with this young Australian. Director Elliot uses a style of a black-and-while world with just one or two objects in the picture in color. Mary gets to live in a color world, but one that is not very pleasant. The film does not clean up the rough edges of life; it glories in them. And Max's life is almost all rough edges. But by keeping the telling simple, as it is in the letters, we are not dragged into the tragedy with full impact of Max's or Mary's situations. With time Mary is able to transcend her environment and even turn what she learned from her relationship with Max into her career. Max never has that strength and the real tragedy is his.
This is not the sort of 3-D animated film we have seen of late. The Claymation is perfect, but it always allows us to feel for the characters, never to minimize them. They never get into fights or have to race anywhere. These are simple characters rendered more likable by the comic distortion of the clay artwork. There is little real plot to this film but the characters are foremost.
While the film tells us that it is based on a true story--and it is a story that Adam Elliot should know well--there was no Mary. The film is based on Elliot's own correspondence with an Asberger's sufferer in the United States. Elliot is telling his own story with wit and charm.
This original film took five years to make. There is a lot of wisdom to it and it covers a great deal in a deceptively simple- seeming package. I rate MARY AND MAX a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0978762/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/10010721-mary_and_max/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper