July 5, 2010
Mary and Max
Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****
My initial experience with Mary and Max – the multi-award-winning Claymation movie from Adam Elliot (whose short Harvie Krumpet won an Oscar back in 2004) -- came when I asked a compatriot critic what he’d enjoyed of late. Without missing a beat he named this film and called it the best he’d seen in maybe a year. This was back in February, when Elliot’s movie press-screened as part of the annual Jewish Film Fest at the Lincoln Center Film Society. Then IFC picked it up for its Festival Direct On-Demand service, and finally – this past month – the movie made its DVD debut. None too soon: It’s a gem.
Claymation, with its penchant for built-in but enormous exaggeration and humor would seem to be the perfect medium for this story based, it is said, on fact (but please don’t let that dissuade you; this is no Lifetime movie of the week). In it, a lonely, overweight, eight-year-old Australian girl named Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Toni Collette), with a set of neglectful parents and a large birthmark on her forehead, while rifling through a Manhattan phone book she finds in the public library, comes upon a random address of one Max Jerry Horowitz (voice of Philip Seymour Hoffman, natch). Wanting a pen pal (and needing a friend), she writes to him and encloses a chocolate bar. Max, it seems, is a hugely obese 44-year-old man with Asperger Syndrome who has trouble with nearly everything that life presents. Not adverse to chocolate, however, he eats the bar and writes a letter back to Mary.
So begins this tale which goes into both expected and unexpected territory of many kinds and becomes, by its end, among the funniest and saddest tales of “outsiders” that I have ever seen. Mary’s mother, one of the great gargoyle creations of modern cinema, is as hilarious as she is awful, and Mary’s next-door neighbor, on whom she develops a crush, turns out to be, well, quite a rich and humane something-else. Max’s life in New York is done more than justice, too – from his Overeaters Anonymous group with one particularly lecherous member to his collection of Noblets (a bizarre cross between Precious Moments and troll-like figurines).
The correspondence between these two is chock full of charm, humanity and longing, while flavored with some wild humor. Mary and Max are outsiders non pareil. And though Mary is young enough to grow out of this and into some form of normalcy (she even begins to excel in certain areas), as with many whom life has marked as odd, she never quite grows out of the feeling of aloneness and being “different.” But because Elliot has approached all this with great good humor and a love of comical exaggeration, his film is non-stop entertaining, while scoring point after point about how difficult and crazy life can seem. While I don’t want to oversell this unusual movie, I don’t think I can.
Posted by cphillips at July 5, 2010 7:32 PM