Innocent but Insightful Clay Animation "Mary and Max" Describes Distant, Unlikely, and Emotional Friendship

Mary and Max

I know it might seem silly but to be honest I’ve watched “Mary and Max” twice around this week and it keeps me sobbing. LOL. I mean, I never watched a clay animation so rich with insights from two innocent characters whose names belong to the film’s title—Mary and Max—while at the same time describes loneliness so powerful due to their unique point of view about life. This is the kind of film you should watch when you’re alone (or lonely), and it will invite you into an emotional up-and-down ride with both laughs and tears.

Inspired by true story, “Mary and Max” is a film about an unlikely friendship: Mary (young character voiced by Bethany Whitmore, adult character voiced by Toni Collete) is a shy Australian girl with a poo-colored birthmark on her forehead and Max (voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a fat American old man that lives by himself in his apartment. It was when Mary randomly picks a name in an address book from nearby post office that she starts sending Max a letter, telling about herself, her innocent life, and her intention to befriend. Luckily, Max receives her letter and replies it. Then they start sending letters to one another and telling them stories about themselves that eventually creates an emotional bond between them.

Mary and Max

“Mary and Max” reminds us very much with Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride” or “Frankenweenie”, in the way Adam Elliot gives a sense of gloominess and dark humor in it. No vivid colors stand out, only grayscales with rare red, orange, and brown colors in some part. It already gives us a clue about how it will not be a sort of cheerful film. Still, I love the way everything in Mary and Max’s world innocently described, like how Mary very girly talks about her alcoholic mom or how her birth is called as an ‘accident’—seems like it’s not even a problem for her. Laughable, but also ironic. Most descriptions are spelled out by narration (by Barry Humphries) which sometimes feels too talky—because even the dialogue from the characters are not as much as the narration—but it never feels dry or dictating.

And I never expected that “Mary and Max” will be so insightful. This is a film about how two people—a shy young girl living with a ‘damaged’ family and a lonely old man that might suffers some kind of mental illness—perceive the world they live in. It is about how they sense the connection they make with their surroundings. “Mary and Max” successfully plays with these states of mind. Many interesting ideas are explored quite lightly, and skillful claymation visualizes these peculiar ideas in a very comical fashion. I mean, isn’t it attracting to listen to characters like Mary and Max tell their viewpoint about, say, religion or sex? (P.S: I'm not gonna tell something many reviews openly tell about this film because I think it's one secret that makes this film even more intriguing :P)

Mary and Max

Then, after solidly describing the two leading characters and their own mind, we will join a lovable chemistry of a friendship. This is special, because of how unlikely a friendship Mary and Max established across two continents. It is emotional how they feel lonely themselves and write everything they feel and send it to someone they barely even know, and eventually receive similar responds. “Mary and Max” shows how funny yet lovely it is when people couldn’t create bond with their surroundings but eventually establish a strong connection with any other people so distant. “Mary and Max” very sweetly flows along years and years of Mary and Max’s remote friendship, and it’s impossible not to love it.

Perhaps some of you will be bothered of why such a lifelong friendship should be told in a very short duration, and I can’t even tell why Mary needs two actress to voice both her young and adult character while Max just only needs one (but doesn’t seem quite different from his look—except his belly size). Some characters are suitably given certain amount of attention to comparatively pair Mary and Max’s intimate connection and their isolation from their surroundings. Damian Popodopulous (voiced by Eric Bana) might not even spelled more than two paragraphs of dialogues, but his presence in this film—along with other ‘mute’ characters like Vera Dinkle, Len, Ivy—is necessary.

Mary and Max

I don’t know if “Mary and Max” just suits my current situation (LOL!) or if it really touches everyone’s heart via a gloomy, bleak, but also light and innocent fashion of a clay animation, but I bet the ending will break everyone into tears. I love “Mary and Max” because of its insightful, non-judgmental, and sweet treatment about a topic many films try so hard to settle but fail: loneliness.

Mary and Max

4.5 out of 5 stars

 ▲  Insightful ideas told in a comical clay animation
 ▼  Narration feels a bit talky

MARY AND MAX | COUNTRY Australia YEAR 2009 RATING n.a. RUNTIME 92 min GENRE Animation, Comedy, Drama CAST Bethany Whitmore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collete, Barry Humphries, Eric Bana WRITER Adam Elliot DIRECTOR Adam Elliot MORE INFO

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  1. What a coincidence! I watched this movie before Christmas--TWICE!
    Well, thorough review, anyhow!
    Visit my page someday, if you have time :)