Mary Dinkle is a lonely, chubby 8 year old girl with a weird birthmark on her forhead. She’s awkward and lonely and has no friends in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia, so she starts up a penpal relationship with a name she picks out of the phonebook.
The man she randomly mails is Max Horovitz, a 44 year old Jewish man from New York City who suffers from an almost crippling case of Aspergers. He has had a long and bizarre life and is surprised by the girl’s question of where babies come from (her parents told her they were found at the bottom of mugs of beer), but Max has no qualms about sharing it with this girl, who becomes his first friend as well. The duo trade letters over the decades and learn to deal with their social anxieties in their own ways.
Mary and Max is a claymation film, but it sure ain’t for kids. While the sense of humor gets positively juvenile at points (we’re talking fart jokes here) the themes are adult and it frequently gets as dark as films can get. It deals with suicide and depression and death and drug addiction, all the while with a strangely lighthearted and jovial feel. You would think that the claymation style might cheapen these issues but it somehow feels very real, and only helps strengthen the themes of the film.
Visually it’s absolutely stunning, by far one of the best claymation films ever made. It doesn’t have the typical jerky style that you’re used to, this is smooth and contains a lot of interesting camerawork and sets. It’s no wonder that they spent more than a year filming it. You’ll love how Melbourne has a brown washed-out look to it, while NYC is black and white, stereotypically noir and crime-ridden.
Anyone who enjoyed director Adam Elliot’s previous Oscar-winning short Harvie Krumpet will find a lot to love here too. Max seems to almost be a most extreme version of poor tourettes suffering Harvie, in fact, and from what I understand of Elliot’s other work it’s all peppered with socially awkward individuals trying to figure out why everything in the world seems so bizarre to them.
He’s managed to make a film here that is more sympathetic to anxiety sufferers than most live action ones- the characters and experiences feel genuine, most likely because they come from his own life experiences. These aren’t one note animated characters, they’re flawed and bizarre and infuriating people that you’ll fall in love with. As they talk about their lives and thoughts while writing their letters to each other (helped tremendously by some fantastic voice acting from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette, as well as narrator Barry Humphries) we see everything they’ve experienced- one of the benefits of using animation.
Mary and Max is a truly beautiful little film, one that will stick with you long after watching it. It’s sweet, funny and depressing, all at once, but one that will make you leave smiling with the wonderful music stuck in your head. Those of you mourning the lack of animated features geared towards adults need look no further.
Mary and Max is available On Demand right now through many cable providers via Sundance Selects. For more check out the official website.