Friday, April 10, 2009

Film review: Mary And Max

Director: Adam Elliot
Cast: Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana, Barry Humphries
Country: Australia

"Sometimes those who find the world quite impossible, find each other" – Narrator

There is a joy to be had in watching Mary And Max, a bizarre black comedy about two penfriends who are loners in a world that is frequently cruel to them. To call it a black comedy probably does the film a disservice because this Australian film might just be one of the more charming dramadies of the year. Mary And Max also just so happens to come in the form of that animated rarity, claymation.

Painstakingly filmed using stop-motion, captured at four seconds a day for just over a year, it is with a sense of visual wonder that one experiences director Adam Elliot's creation. Sure part of the joy lies in watching this world brought to life as if touched by some sorcerer’s apprentice, but mostly it comes from a wonderful realisation of the human spirit as indomitable and affectionate portrayal of a relationship that is true as any real action pairing.

Elliot’s last outing was the 2003 Oscar-winning animated short Harvey Krumpet, an odd tale about a man with Tourettes Syndrome and chronic bad luck, a pattern that can be traced throughout the filmmaker's work. It should come as no surprise then that his first feature would be a biography of two social outcasts who form the unlikeliest of friendships.

In the small Australian town of Waverley bullied eight-year old schoolgirl Mary Daisy Dinkle spontaneously pulls a page from a New York telephone directory and randomly selects one Max Jerry Horovitz to be the recipient of a letter. Max, a 44-year old Jewish man with Asperger’s Syndrome overcomes his initial bewilderment and writes back to Mary; as fate would have it the two are kindred spirits.

Whilst Mary is a delight of a character wonderfully voiced as a child by Bethany Whitmore and Toni Collette as an adult, it is Max who steals the show. Beneath the surface of the script filled with undeniable charm, oddball wit and whimsical humour is a character so fully brought to life by Philip Seymour Hoffman that he inspires such pathos to make this film endlessly enriching.

The story, accompanied by long and occasionally overcooked passages of Barry Humphries suitably gravely narration, meanders at times and it may be a little too despairing or maudlin in flavour for some. But Elliot spoils us not only with a keen cinematic experience, but an astute emotional one too. It is not a stretch to declare Mary And Max the best Australian feature film of the year to date.

Mary and Max opens 9 April.
This review also appears in 3D World


Unknown said...

Really nice review, Scott.
Can't wait to meet Mary & Max.

Paul Martin said...

No, I don't think your claim is a stretch at all. It's probably one of the most engaging and entertaining Australian films of recent years. It should do very well at the box office.