Film Review: Mary & Max Directed and Written by Adam Elliot

Mary & Max is a claymation tale of two penpals that begins in 1976 and spans 20 years. Eight-year-old Mary Daisy Dinkle accompanies her shoplifting mother, Vera Lorraine Dinkle, on an errand to "pick up" some envelopes at the post office. While waiting, Mary spots a Manhattan phonebook and thumbs through the pages of New York surnames. Vera's stashed box of envelopes unexpectedly falls from her dress and onto the floor in front of the enraged post office manager. Vera beats a hasty retreat grabbing Mary who takes part of the phonebook page with her.

When Mary returns to her suburban Melbourne home with her sherry-swilling, cigarette-smoking, cricket-loving mother, she decides to write a letter to a name on the torn phonebook page, one Max Jerry Horowitz, an obese middle-aged atheist who also suffers from Asperger's syndrome.The penpals quickly discover that they are both lovers of chocolate and the Noblets (cartoon characters) and have loneliness and friendlessness in common.

In addition to giving a touching portrayal of friendship, this tragicomedy deals with some very adult themes: depression, suicide, anxiety and alcoholism. But don't be scared off. For every sad moment, there is something equally hilarious to offset it. For instance, Mary's letters often trigger Max's anxiety attacks. After a particularly intense episode, Max is unable to write to Mary for a very long time. When he finally sits down to type a letter, he tells her that not much has happened in his life, except for his facing manslaughter charges, being committed to a state mental institution and winning the lottery.

Unlike most animation features, this film doesn't have a lot of colour, but somehow more colour would have detracted from all the details. The scenes in Australia are filmed in sepia tones, while those in New York are filmed in black and white. There is a splash of red in every scene to emphasize certain objects: Mary's barrette, Vera's lips and a pompom that Max wears on his yarmulke, a gift from Mary.

I enjoyed this movie enough to watch it three times. What I loved the most was the writing, and Adam Elliot's love of threes and his balanced names, such as Bernie Clifford who teases Mary about her poo-coloured birthmark and pisses on her spam sandwich, and Marjorie Butterworth who tries to seduce an anxiety-ridden Max. I also liked all the fine details that working with clay allows for. I much prefer the naive imperfections of clay models to the slickness of computer-generated images (CGIs).

Oddly enough, this is based on a true story. Writer and director Adam Elliot had a New York penpal with Asperger's syndrome. In the interview below, he claims that Mary most resembles him and his life growing up in Mount Waverly, a suburb of Melbourne.

This is a great movie for adults! See trailer (2:05 min)

Further reading:
Interview with Adam Elliot


Post a Comment