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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
I went into this film at the Berlinale with mixed feelings. I knew that Adam Elliot's shorts were great but frankly the last few years haven't been great for Australian films and a number of short filmmakers have made disappointing first features.
But right from the opening frame, this film shattered any of my doubts. It's so refreshing to see a film told with such a strong unique vision and pulled off so effortlessly. This is made even more remarkable not only as it's made using stop motion animation but also because of the characters and subject matter it tackles.
Mary is an 8 year old outcast living in the suburbs of Melbourne. On a whim, she chooses a name at random in a phone book and sends off a letter asking about life on the other side of the world. The letter is received by Max, an overweight depressive in his 40's living in New York, suffering from Aspergers Syndrome. A friendship is born as the pair exchange letters over the next 20 years. offering each other support, advice and the chance to see life through another set of eyes.
While the world is painted in gloomy hues of brown and grey and the characters lead bleak lives, the genius of the script is that the characters never wallow or feel sorry for themselves. The tone is kept humorous and balanced allowing us to be moved by the characters as they stumble through life but also laugh at their foibles and observations of the world they struggle to fit into. Not since Muriel's Wedding has Australia produced so fine a comedy with such rich detail and I probably got even more laughs out of this.
My only criticism of the film would be some of its music particularly its use in one key scene of the Humming Chorus (already used so memorably in the finale of Heavenly Creatures). It meant that in a critical moment I was thinking of Kate Winslet up to no good instead of connecting with Mary & Max. But this is more a personal concern and if that's the weakest thing about the film, it's doing pretty well. I hope this film is seen by the wide audience it so richly deserves.
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