Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Mary And Max

Mary and Max. Directed & Written by Adam Elliot.

Preconceptions: Well having just read the Haunting of Hill House, I thought it might be nice to watch both of the movies (I remember the more recent one being extraordinarily clumsy, so that should be fun to review). But that would require the forethought of actually renting them. Look forward to that in the upcoming weeks, but for now, I went back to the tried and true method of flicking through instant Netflix. Fortunately for me, I found Mary and Max. This movie was created by the same writer/director who contributed Brother to one of my favourite short film fests, the Animation Show (2000). If you haven't seen the Animation Show, I highly recommend it. There are a lot of excellent short films to be found in the Show, but Brother stood out. It mixed funny and sad so deftly that it didn't confuse my easily side-tracked brain. Needless to say, I was excited to see that a full length film was available.

General Review: Oh dear, this is going to be another gushy review. While I'm not on my way out to join the Adam Elliot cult, I would certainly be willing to sign up for his creepy hand-made tracts. This had all the same joking sadness that I loved in Brother. Also, despite being substantially longer, Mary and Max didn't wear out its welcome.
A quick run down of the plot: Mary is an unpopular Australian girl who writes to an American at random to ask how babies are made. Max, the recipient of her letter, is an obese New
Yorker who has Asperger syndrome. Both of their stories are told throughletters they exchange. A slight warning, yes, the movie is clay-mation and chalk full of adorable animals, but it is highly inappropriate for children. It dallies heavily with sex and death. Wallace and Gromit this is not (or my much hated Gumby for that matter).

I loved the design sensibility of Mary and Max. The look of the characters was similar to Elliot's previous work, the button eyed, kind of ugly people and of course, the big eyed scrawny animals. Naturally, I loved those cute little horrors, but my enjoyment hardly ended there. The sepia tones in Mary's world
and the black and whites in Max's were beautiful. So were the rare touches of colour when either of them felt particularly elated. The animation of Mary was particularly good, while we do get some of her internal monologue from her letters to Max, they are substantially shorter than his. Most of what we get about her comes from her reactions to what she's experiencing. I can't think of many animated films (particularly clay-mation) that make me feel so close to the characters. Despite the distance that can be caused by unrealistic clay people dancing around, I felt as connected to them as if they were actors.

There was very little actual dialogue, most of the voice acting being via theletters and the narrator. In fact, the few times we do hear characters talking to each other it's almost jarring. Barry Humphries (as the narrator) wa
s excellent. He carried that feeling of God-like knowledge (and regret) wonderfully. And Hoffman's portrayal of the subdued joy and overwhelming anxiety and anger of Max was superb.

The story, as I mentioned, is dark. The two misfit main characters find each other, but never really find their place in the world. And the connection they share isn't always a positive influence. But unlike many slice of life depressing movies, this one also keeps a sense of the ridiculous to balance it out. I can't say enough about the strength of the writing.

I'm afraid that this is less one of my reviews and more one of my recommendations. As you may have noticed, I don't have much to critique. Mary and Max walks a very difficult line between depressingly bleak and gut bust-ingly hilarious. It's both tender hearted and mean spirited. As well as all this, it's a visual treat. This is one of the better movies I've seen in a while (Breillat aside) and I think you should see it.

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