Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Mary and Max (2009)

Fig 1 - Mary and Max Poster
Mary and Max is the story of an unexpected long-distance friendship between a young Australian girl named Mary (Toni Collette) and a middle-aged New Yorker named Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman), both of which live in equally difficult socio-economic circumstances. The film cuts between segments within their respective countries, exhibiting Australia through a spectrum of muted browns during a time of vast change to the multicultural landscape, whilst New York is seen through a filter of black and white to reflect the oppressive conditions of a city rampant with poverty and violence. Mary lives with her neglectful parents in a working class suburban neighbourhood whilst Max lives alone in an apartment building alongside several pets. The two write to each other over the course of several decades, initially bonding over their fondness of chocolate and a show called 'The Noblets'. However their discussion eventually grows more personal, giving both characters an outlet through which to vent over the hardships life has thrown at them.

Back in 2015 I wrote a review of Mary and Max on this very blog, in which I stated that the success of the film "demonstrated a demand for the adult approach to animated cinema". I still absolutely believe this to be the case, however I struggle to remember many examples of mature, mainstream animated features from the nine years following it's release. In fact aside from Studio Ghibli, whose films are generally accessible to a great range of audiences, I can only think of Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa (2015), a film which uses stop-motion to a semi-realistic degree and similarly toys with themes of depression and anxiety. Of course, one could argue that Sausage Party (2016) fits the criteria here too, but let's not pretend there's a whole lot of 'meat' to that particular candidate...

Fig 2 - Mary and Max - Max and Mary
Having watched Mary and Max for a second time now, I can safely say I am a huge fan of this film. The nature of it's narrative flow (written and directed masterfully by Adam Elliot) gives the film plenty of time to flesh-out it's central characters whom, by the end, feel as three-dimensional as any live-action interpretation could hope to achieve. Dealing with themes such as isolation, depression, mental illness and neglect, Mary and Max packs in a whole host of real-life issues which just happen to channel so charmingly through stop-motion figures. Not to mention the soundtrack, which will have Penguin Cafe Orchestra's 'Perpetuum Mobile' ringing in your ears long after the credits roll.

It's a film that is art directed to within an inch of it's life, in the best possible way. The attention to detail within the model universe makes the world feel tangible and real, taking us through the countless settings and scenarios described by the leads, which burst with adorable miniatures. Like all the best animations, I found myself eager to just pause the film and appreciate the work that went into establishing this reality. If it's cartoonish style doesn't grab your attention from the off, I don't know what will.

Incidentally, I do have quite a soft spot for films that deal with the reality of broken homes, and even more of an affinity for anything featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman (God rest his soul). So all in all, I haven't a bad word to say about this film. It's touching, humorous and beautifully executed, delving further below the surface than most animations dare to go.


Fig. 1 Mary and Max Poster (2009) From: Mary and Max - Directed by: Adam Elliot


Fig. 2 Mary and Max Screenshot (2009) From: Mary and Max - Directed by: Adam Elliot


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