Thursday, 18 May 2017

Film Review: Mary and Max (2009)

Fig. 1: Mary and Max Poster (2009)
Mary and Max (2009), written and directed by Adam Elliot, is a stop motion animated comedy with two main characters; Mary Daisy Dinkle and Max Horowitz. Mary is a shy, lonely child, who lives in Australia with her distant father, Noel, and her alcoholic mother, Vera. Max is a 44 year old morbidly obese man, who lives alone in an apartment in New York, and has trouble forming close bonds with other people due to Asperger syndrome and social anxiety. Mary, in a desperate search for a friend, finds Max's name in a phone book and writes to him. Though her first letter causes Max to have a severe anxiety attack, he eventually writes back, and the two become unlikely pen-friends. 
Fig. 2: Mary writing a letter to Max.
Throughout the film, the two write back and forth as their friendship grows stronger. They both have a child-like understanding of some aspects of life, but Max still uses his role as an adult figure in Mary's life to help her in varying ways, including telling Mary how to stop a boy from picking on her for her birthmark. Both Max and Mary are so distanced from other people, that it's no surprise, yet still somehow charming, how attached they become to one another. "We learn a lot about their overlapping enthusiams, including Max’s five favourite words... and the deep yearnings for companionship which make the successful delivery of each letter a heart-in-mouth business." (Robey, 2010).
Fig. 3: Max imagines him and Mary crossing paths.
The film contains a lot of dark humour, and ultimately the audience finds themselves laughing at two characters who lead very unfortunate lives. Character deaths, suicide, and mental illness are just a few of the things that the film portrays in comedic ways. Dark humour is considered to be typical of Australian humour in general, and it's the use of it in Mary and Max that makes the film inherently Australian. "You have to admire the ambition, even if Elliot doesn't always seem certain if he's laughing with or at his creations." (Pulver, 2010). Adam Elliot, the writer and director of the film, went to school in Mount Waverley; the same suburb where Mary lives, so it can be assumed that the setting and varying characters may be based on encounters Adam Elliot had growing up. In fact, the character of Max is based on Adam Elliot's own New York based pen-friend, whom he has been writing to for over 20 years. The film also contains several nods to Australian people and culture; a stamp bearing the likeness of Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everage (who also narrates the film), references to Muriel's Wedding (1994), and references to Adam Elliot's previous works.
Fig. 4: Max after being diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.
The film, despite its themes and often grim subject matters, manages to be heart-warming and fun. Had it been a live-action film, it wouldn't have worked as well, but the over the top and usually grotesque looking characters are a reminder that the situations and people are not real, so the audience can sit back and laugh rather than feel like they're watching what is, in many ways, a very sad story of two unlikely friends. "It is a sad, whimsical, uncomfortably comic film, touching rather than tragic" (French, 2010).

Figure 1. Mary and Max Poster (2009) [image] At: (Accessed on: 16.02.2017)

Figure 2. Mary writing a letter to Max. (2009) From: Mary and Max. Directed by: Adam Elliot [Film still] Australia: Melodrama Pictures. At: (Accessed on: 18.05.2017)

Figure 3. Max imagines him and Mary crossing paths. (2009) From: Mary and Max. Directed by: Adam Elliot [Film still] Australia: Melodrama Pictures. At: on: 18.05.2017)

Figure 4. Max after being diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. (2009) From: Mary and Max. Directed by: Adam Elliot [Film still] Australia: Melodrama Pictures. At: (Accessed on: 18.05.2017)

Pulver, A. (2010) 'Mary and Max – review'. In: The Guardian 21.10.2010 [online] At: (Accessed on: 18.05.2017)

Robey, T. (2010) 'Mary and Max, review'. In: The Telegraph 21.10.2010 [online] At: (Accessed on: 18.05.2017)

French, P. (2010) 'Mary and Max – review'. In: The Guardian 24.10.2010 [online] At: (Accessed on: 18.05.2017)

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