Written and directed by Adam Elliot
There are several things that are sorely lacking in the world of film, and animation specifically targeted towards adults is one of them. Maybe it’s this idea that, if you’re not trying to target kids with bright colors and silly humor, you don’t need to do animation, an idea that is sorely mistaken. Mary and Max manages to prove just how far from truth it is and shows how much adult animation is needed.
Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Bethany Whitmore as a child and Toni Collette as an adult) is an 8-year-old Australian girl with parents who are apathetic and alcoholic. When she starts wondering where babies come from in America, she chooses a random name in the phonebook to write to, which just happens to be Max Jerry Horowitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a 44-year-old New Yorker with Asperger’s. From there, a long-lasting pen pal relationship begins.
The movie’s main strength in its use of animation is how it changes tone at the drop of a hat. Whereas live action has certain rules about humor vs. darkness, Mary and Max switches between them freely. Moments like Max talking about his mother’s death are followed by a witty line of dialogue or a bit of humorous animation. The claymation here is gorgeous, beautifully crafted and managing to create two incredible worlds. Whereas Australia is fairly colorful, New York is shown only in black-and-white, with only certain bits adding color to it, most of them coming from Mary.
But the movie’s real structure is the incredible relationship that develops between two people writing to each other. While they initially seem like they couldn’t be more different, the pieces start falling in place and just how together they are becomes obvious. We learn their personalities and histories mainly through their letters to each other. In fact, the letters are the majority of the actual dialogue, with most of the movie narrated by Barry Humphries. It provides the appropriate atmosphere for the movie. These are two people who are mainly friendless and alone in the world, which is strengthened by the fact that their only conversations are with each other. Their histories are tinged with humor, but also filled with pain, darkness that they’re solving by bringing light to each other’s worlds.
An extraordinary movie which draws you into a world that mixes its animated silliness with plenty of reality. It handles its tough subject matter with care, and manages to make a movie that will make you laugh and cry.