Mary And Max * * * * 1/2
Director: Adam Elliot.
Screenplay: Adam Elliot.
Voices: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, Bethany Whitmore, Eric Bana, Renee Geyer.
Narrator: Barry Humphries.
Back In 2003, director Adam Elliot released an animated short called “Harvie Krumpet“. It went on to win an Oscar and like most animators after receiving this accolade, he went on to make a feature film. If this little film is anything to go buy, then it won’t be the last we’ll be seeing of this talented artist.
It tells the story of two, not so different but very unusual, pen pals; Mary, an 8 year old Australian girl living in Melbourne and Max a 44 year old man from New York. They both struggle to get on in life and have difficulty connecting with people yet miles apart, manage to strike up a heart-warming friendship that spans 20 years.
As we are introduced to young Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Bethany Whitmore as a child and Toni Collette as an adult), we are told she has eyes the colour of muddy puddles and a birthmark the colour of poo. She gets teased at school and her parents are always busy. Her father is either working on taxidermy or attaching the strings to teabags and her mother is constantly ‘testing’ the sherry and listening to Cricket on the radio. The people around her have very little time for her. As a result, she randomly chooses a name from an American phonebook and writes a letter to Max Jerry Horovitz. Max (voiced by an unrecognisable Philip Seymour Hoffman) is just as lonely and finds the world very confusing and chaotic. He has trouble understanding people, is hyper sensitive and has trouble expressing his emotions. However, he decides to respond and an unlikely friendship develops between them. It’s the commentary on their individual lives and personal experiences that provides this film with some off-beat and darkly humorous ideas. Mary is able to ask questions like: Do sheep shrink when it rains? Why old men wear their trousers so high and if a taxi drives backwards does it save you money? She also tells Max of her neighbour who’s scared of going outside – “which is a disease called homophobia”. She’s sweet and innocent and like Max, shares that inability to fit in. Max is also allowed a rare chance in his life to open up. He tells her of his top five favourite-sounding words; “Ointment, Bumblebee, Vladivostok, Banana and Testicle”. He also informs us, that when he was young, he invented an invisible friend called ‘Mr. Ravioli’. His psychiatrist said that Max didn’t need him anymore, so ‘Mr. Ravioli’ now just sits in the corner and reads self help books. The humour is easy-going and possesses a freshness and originality. The use of animated clay dolls and monochrome and sepia settings are also brilliantly done, helping the humorous characters and dialogue perfectly compliment each other. Despite a lightness of touch though, it also addresses some deeper themes; alcoholism, mental illness, body image, suicide and depression which make this a film more suited to adults but that doesn’t stop it from being a delightful and highly inventive piece of work.
It’s been a long time since I seen Adam Elliot’s short “Harvie Krumpet” but I’ll be keeping an eye out for it again after this creative, emotional and poignant little treat.