Stars: Toni Collette, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Director: Adam Elliot
Release Date: June 15, 2010
MPAA Rating: Unrated
When I was nine years old, I stopped watching animated films. Suddenly, The Little Mermaid and The Chipmunk Adventure didn’t do it for me. I began watching films that normal children of my age would have fallen asleep to, like Chaplin, Broadcast News, and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It came as no big shock that I was an unpopular child, and fat to boot. Oh, and did I mention my big 80′s glasses? Yep, total nerd. That’s probably too much information, but I digress. My point is that since I was nine I’ve been picky when it comes to animated films of any kind. A couple of notable exceptions would be The Triplets of Belleville and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Now I’m proud to add the 2009 Australian clay-animated movie Mary and Max to that list.
Mary (The Sixth Sense‘s Toni Collette) is a young, lonely girl living in Australia with her sherry-swigging mother and father who likes to spend his free time stuffing dead birds. Her eyes look like “muddy puddles.” She has an oddly-shaped dark birthmark (“looks like poo”) on her forehead. She has her hair cut by her father (who shouldn’t be allowed near a pair of scissors) so the family can save money. Mary is without any friends except for a pet rooster. In a quest to find out where babies come from (her grandfather told her that men found them at the bottom of beer mugs) and with no one to turn to, she randomly picks an address from an U.S. address book. Enter her American pen pal Max…
Max (Capote‘s Philip Seymour Hoffman) is in his forties, lives alone in a small apartment in New York, has mental problems and is morbidly obese (his favorite recipe is chocolate hot dogs). Despite his anxiety over this new situation he’s been thrown into, he responds to Mary’s letter because he, too, is lonely. A friendship of sorts develops and its ups and downs are chronicled in the film.
As previously mentioned, this is a clay-animated movie and it is gorgeous. The first couple minutes are set on Mary’s street in Australia and we take in Mary’s surroundings. Every single object is beautifully crafted and carefully detailed. During the movie, when the setting is Australia, the colors are somewhat subdued, but not to the point of being ugly. But when we are transported to New York, most everything is in black and white. Max’s view of the world, with all of its shades of gray, contrasts sharply with Mary’s somewhat more optimistic view of the world, which is shaded but with some light shining through.
If you couldn’t guess from my description so far, this is not a movie for kids. It deals with a lot of adult themes including sex, death, depression and failure. But you will laugh. The wit exhibited in scenes such as Max discussing his mental illness (“When I was young, I invented an invisible friend called Mr. Ravioli. My psychiatrist says I don’t need him anymore, so he just sits in the corner and reads.”) and Mary discussing her mother’s stand on Mary’s weight (“Mum says I am fat too and I’m growing up to be a heifer, which I think is a type of cow.”). Although you feel bad that they have both been dealt some pretty horrible cards, you’re also comforted by the fact that they can confide in and draw strength from each other.
For those who aren’t fans of animated films, I highly suggest you give Mary and Max a chance. It’s a great story and would only be 90 minutes of your life. I’d also highly recommend it for those who might have been fat, glasses-wearing nerds who just didn’t fit in as kids. This one’s definitely for you.