Mary & Max | Adam Elliot, 2009
“God gives us relatives. Thank God we can choose our friends”
-Ethel Watts Mumford
I’ve said it before, but animation is my favorite film medium.In this medium you can tell just about every story, from toys coming to life, to the study of a soldier who lost his memory of what happened during the war and is interviewing people from his past to find out about it.No matter the topic, or how gruesome things get, there is something about the medium that makes things easier to digest (I’m not counting über violent animes), and sometimes leave more of a lasting impression, at least to me. But american studios rarely have the balls to go past the whole “be your self and everything will be alright concept” and teach it with talking animal (except Pixar, duh). Further proof of this is found in the Australian, stop-motion movie Mary & Max, which is unlike any animatated movie I’ve ever seen.
Mary & Max is about he pen-pal relationship between Mary Daisy Dinkle (Bethany Whitmore as a child and Tony Collete as an adult) and Max Jerry Horovitz (Philip Seymore Hoffman). Mary lives in Australia with her alcoholic mother and her father who spends all his time in his shed stuffing dead birds. Max is a man over 40-years-old who is overweight and is prone to anxiety attacks. One day while at the post office with her mom, Mary tears out a page from the New York directory and picks a name and sends a letter with questions such as where babies come from. Max gets the letter, panics, and then decides to write back to her. And so begins a friendship that would last more than 20 years between two lonely people who just want to have a friend.
The reason I say that I’ve never seen a movie like this before is because no animated movie I’ve seen has taken on the topics that this discusses so casually. Besides covering the topic of where babies come from, it also covers suicide, mental illness, love, the lottery, greed, and chocolate. And these topics are presented in such a non-chalant way and without the intension of shocking the audience. Writer/Director/Set Designer Adam Elliot, who won an Oscar for his short film Harvey Krumpet, handles all this with such grace and beauty, in both his great scrip and his direction, that I could not help but go along with it and see those things as a part of life that just happen.
Also helping the movie’s cause is the cast. Bethany Whitmore is charming as a young Mary. She just melted my heart. When Toni Colette took over, it is a perfect fit, and I did not even recognize her voice. But the best of them all is Phillip Seymore Hoffman as Max. Even though he has a very distinctive voice, I did not recognize him in this at all. It is easily his best performance since Capote and the best voice performance of the 2009. Also, I must point out the design of it all. It did not have the budget of say, Fantastic Mr. Fox of Coraline, but it feels much more authentic than those. The sets are beautiful and detailed, and the characters are beautifully rendered.
Mary & Max is easily one of the best movies of 2009. It made me hungry for more mature animation from someone else than Pixar, and hopefully in the future, as more people see that animation is not just for children, my dream will come true.