Genre: Animated drama
Cast: Toni Collette (voice of Mary), Philip Seymour Hoffman (voice of Max), Barry Humphries (narrator)
Director: Adam Elliot
Few films from the IMDB Top 250 list have been as satisfactory as the animated feature Mary & Max.
The film is the very emotional tale of two unlikely pen pals. Mary is a little Scottish girl with a vivid imagination, a peculiar birth mark, weird not-so-attentive parents and a lot of self-doubt. Max is an overweight middle-aged man from New York City with very serious psychological issues that manifest in the most absurd, funny and inventive ways. Of the two, Max is both the least relatable (being the more peculiar of the two), and the more interesting character (his quirks and skewed observation of the world are a treat).
There are no judgments in the way in which the story is told, but pure empathy. Every flaw is not a reason to stray away from these characters, but to love them even more.
Max is the embodiment of a life carried out marginally, pushed away by a society that does not embrace what it does not understand. In his weekly meetings with a psychologist he receives insightful words, but he does not quite get the kind of care and understanding he truly needs. When Mary’s letter suddenly appears in his mailbox, his very basic existence suddenly becomes a bit more interesting, which frightens him greatly at first, only to eventually become the one thing he treasures zealously. In almost equal measure, Max becomes Mary’s motivator from afar, giving her life purpose and providing the little bit of confidence she needs to tackle love and profession.
The initial bond between the two is one fed by curiosity and naiveté. Despite their age difference, both share facts and questions through the prism of people who have led sheltered unexperienced lives. The fact that their relationship is fortuitous adds to the mystique of the tale, which certainly touches upon the question of destiny, suggesting these two were meant to be friends, but that their relationship is also meant to be fraught with difficulty and remain at a distance.
The animation style serves the film well as it captures the somber and very modest setting in which each character lives. Had it been a computerized and polished animation like what we are used to seeing from outfits like Pixar, the environment might have become too suppressing and overwhelming for the characters to flourish as they did. Instead, there is a certain dynamism and liveliness to the animation that renders each scene useful and visually interesting.
What makes Mary & Max truly great is that it manages to weave social commentary within a very effective character study. The endless child-like curiosity, manisfested in the many letters Mary and Max exchange, have a touch of phylosophy, religion, existentialism and social criticism that are part of a very cleverly written and charming script.
♦♦ Candidate to the Blog Of Big Ideas Top 250 Films ♦♦