The year is 2009 and a slew of Australian films have just been given limited releases. Among these films was a masterpiece that got lost among the crowd. A claymation feature with voice work from Toni Collette, Eric Bana and the always immaculate Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Even with an Oscar winner at the helm, it still only received a very limited and sadly quiet run in cinemas; yet it’s one of the greatest animated films to ever be released.
Mary (Voiced by Toni Collette) is one of the loneliest people on the planet. She is an obese 11-year-old growing up in a broken home with some serious self-confidence issues and all there is to keep her company are her letters to the loneliest person on the planet, her pen pal, Max. Max (Voiced by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is a 44-year-old morbidly obese New Yorker who suffers from anxiety and a natural fear of…well, everything, including human interaction. She offers him insight into her everyday existence, which is anything but routine given her inquisitive nature and fascination of almost anything, including and especially human behaviour. Max’s curiosity, if any, comes from his love of food, and the inventive concoctions he creates when mixing different types of foods (chocolate hotdog). This only stirs Mary’s curiosity all the more.
As the years progress and Mary grows to be a woman, Max hits a plateau of human misery yet still awaits the joy of reading Mary’s letters. What then eventuates is a foray into almost every human emotion ever felt. Loneliness, love, the works. Mary and Max are the epitome of soul mates, yet a big blue ocean separates them. This isn’t a romantic relationship nor is it one that’s inherited – loneliness has brought them together and as long as pen touches paper, they’ll both have a reason to wake up each morning and find purpose in their judgmental surroundings. Whether its New York or Australia, no place is home or welcoming, but there’s solace in the both of their understanding of this notion.
There is so much more that could be said about the connection Mary and Max make, as well as the themes the film explores, but seeing the film does more justice than my words could. Just find comfort in the fact that this..It is no “human condition” picture, it’s more than that. Adam Elliot’s writing and direction go above and beyond in emphasising their relationship, while somehow never relying on schmaltz or predictability.
Released in a handful of Australian (mostly arthouse) cinemas in April of 2009, Mary and Max was at first advertised as a kids film but switched almost immediately to appeal to older audiences. Perhaps due to some of the themes, it was not found acceptable for young children to see, thus it was essentially hidden from any larger cinemas? Make no mistake, no matter how heavy and existential Mary and Max can get, it’s perfect for children as what may serve as an ideal introduction to the wider world. It shies away from nothing, yet is so delicately handled that you’re never threatened or fearful when things truly decline for our protagonists.
The claymation on display is some of the best ever created, never once feeling cheap. The animation in Mary and Max paints a beautiful picture and accentuates the emotions on display (especially humour). The story is very grounded thus the animation is spent on expressions and surroundings rather than large set pieces. We appreciate the work gone in to creating all of this all the more.
Adam Elliot who won an Oscar in 2003 for his animated short film Harvie Krumpet has made a beautiful film that defies cliche and conventional storytelling, taking a ball of clay and molding it into a story that reminds you what it’s like to love and interact. Many have not seen it, yet if you do, I can safely say it’ll be one of the best films you’ll have ever seen.
Oh and amidst the gush, I forgot to mention, it also features a necessary and wonderful narration from Barry Humphries. Your move, Pixar.
By Chris Elena