In the mid-1970's, a homely, friendless Australian girl of 8 picks a name out of a Manhattan phone book and writes to him; she includes a chocolate bar. She's Mary Dinkle, the only child of an alcoholic mother and a distracted father. He's Max Horowitz, an overweight man with Asperger's, living alone in New York. He writes back, with chocolate. Thus begins a 20-year correspondence, interrupted by a stay in an asylum and a few misunderstandings. Mary falls in love with a neighbor, saves money to have a birthmark removed and deals with loss. Max has a friendship with a neighbor, tries to control his weight, and finally gets the dream job. Will the two ever meet face to face? Written by
Mary & Max - wonderfully unique and personal animation
There's a constant stream of animated films these days, but mostly they're either glossy Hollywood product (Pixar/Dreamworks), or Japanese anime. For adults wanting something different we have to wait for the likes of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Waltz With Bashir, Persepolis, or Aardman's films to turn up. Mary & Max is one of these films that comes as a complete departure from all the others, both in visual and storytelling style, and sticks in the mind because of it. I won't repeat the plot here, so I'll just mention a few pros and cons. The cons are obvious. Some people will be put off by the almost constant narration (which took me a while to get used to), the rather numerous calamities (a lot more than you'd expect if you thought this was just a kids film), and the sadness within some of these people's stories. It's actually a little surprising that the film got made without the people financing it demanding a script that was more tailored to appeal to a wider audience. What we get is something that feels a whole lot more personal than the higher profile animated films. It feels personal, and therefore real, and the explanation is that it was written from life by a director who has a real feeling and sympathy for people who don't quite fit into the world, and feel alienated or are misunderstood by others. Mary was partly inspired by the director's own childhood (and there's a little bit of Toni Collette's Muriel Heslop thrown in I suspect), and Max is also based on a real person he's been pen friends with (but so far has never met in person). The way the film handles his Asperger's Syndrome just feels different to how you'd normally see such an issue handled on screen. There's a constant stream of humour (ironic, black, childish), and I really enjoyed the small perfect touches on growing up in an Australian suburb in the 70's and 80's, and the depiction of grey New York, as it appears to the easily frightened Max. The animation is constantly a joy to watch, and I highly recommend seeing it on the big screen where it can be properly appreciated in all it's hand-made glory.
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