Mary and Max (2009)
A tale of friendship between two unlikely pen pals: Mary, a lonely, eight-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne, and Max, a forty-four-year old, severely obese man living in New York.
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?
"Mary and Max" is a poignant story that chronicles a pen-pal relationship between two very different people which spans nearly 2 decades across 2 continents. Though living entirely different lives, the two bond over their mutual eccentricities and isolation: Mary Dinkle is a chubby, lonely eight-year-old with an unfortunate birthmark on her forehead. She lives in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, Max Horovitz is a morbidly obese, 44-year-old formerly Jewish atheist with Asperger's Syndrome who resides amidst the chaos of New York City. "Mary and Max" chronicles the lives of Mary, who grows up to become a successful writer, and Max, who grows from middle to old age. Over their years of communication, they each offer each other support, advice and the opportunity to see life in a different perspective.
It is a simple tale of pen-friendship between two very different people; Mary Dinkle, living in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia and New Yorker with Aspergers, Max Horowitz. Spanning 20 years and 2 continents, Mary and Max's friendship survives much more than the average diet of life's ups and downs.
- A narrator (Barry Humphries) introduces us to Mary Daisy Dinkle (Bethany Whitmore), a charming and personable 8 year-old girl living in Mount Waverly, Melbourne, Australia. She resides in a quaint house with her mother, Vera (Renée Geyer), a dissheveled kleptomaniac who is addicted to sherry and includes it in nearly all of her dastardly cooking, and her father, Noel, who spends much of his time locked away in an outdoor shed drinking and performing taxidermy on birds that he's found dead on the freeway. At school, Mary is often made fun of for an unfortunate birthmark on her forehead. With no friends besides her pet rooster, Ethel, and the lack of support from her parents, Mary finds solace in food, including condensed milk, and her favorite television show, the Noblets. She creates her own toys and fantasizes about one day marrying a man named Earl Grey, after her favorite tea, and living in a castle in Scotland.
Max Jerry Horowitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a 44 year-old, morbidly obese man living in New York City in a small apartment. He also enjoys watching the Noblets but suffers from social anxieties and has no friends besides his goldfish Henry VIII, who has sadly just passed away. Max decides to quickly buy another fish and name him Henry IX before indulging in another chocolate hotdog to help him sleep.
One day, while accompanying her mother as she 'borrows' envelopes from the local post office, Mary decides to write a letter to someone in America, after wondering what the country was like. She happens upon the name 'Max Horowitz' from the directory just as Vera is caught stuffing envelopes up her dress. Mary grabs the address from the book as her mother grabs her and flees the post office. At home, Mary writes her introductory letter to Max and includes in her package a drawing of herself and a chocolate bar as a token of friendship.
Meanwhile, Max has just arrived home from his weekly Overeaters Anonymous meeting particularly disturbed due to unwanted flirtations from a woman in his class. Max doesn't understand most social cues and finds people perplexing and complicated. Upon finding and reading Mary's letter, Max becomes even more unsettled and resorts to swaying in a corner, something he does to calm himself in the face of a stressful event. However, after calming himself, Max sits down to his typewriter and begins writing out a reply to Mary. He answers all of her questions to the best of his ability while describing his life. Besides his fish Henry, Max shares the apartment with a few snails, a parakeet, a one-eyed cat, and an imaginary friend named Mr. Ravioli who spends his time reading in the corner since Max's psychiatrist informed Max that he didn't need him anymore. Max writes that he was born Jewish but has since become an atheist, although he still wears his yarmulke since it keeps his head warm. He sends out his letter and encloses some photos and the recipe to his chocolate hotdogs.
The letter arrives on Mary's doorstep a few days later, only to be picked up and read by Vera, who is not impressed by whom she thinks is a nutcase writing to her daughter. She promptly throws the letter in the trash. The next morning before school, Mary helps bring the trash out to the curb and, when it is accidentally knocked over, discovers the crumpled letter from Max. She hides it from her mother and reads it in private later on, savoring every word. She writes back and informs Max to mail his letters to her elderly neighbor so that her parents don't discover them. Mr. Len Hislop is a WWII veteran who lost his legs while being dangled over a school of pirahna as a prisoner of war. Since then, he's been confined to a wheelchair and suffers from agoraphobia, so Mary delivers his mail for him. In her letter, Mary describes how she is teased at school and asks Max for any advice and if he's ever been teased. This question is unsettling to Max to a severe degree since it brings supressed memories to the surface of when he was bullied as a child. After calming down, he writes a reply and attaches the pompom Mary made to the top of his yarmulke. He suggests that Mary tell her teasers that her birthmark is actually made of chocolate, which means that she will be in charge of all of it when she gets to heaven. Mary's reply, which includes a happy conclusion to her bullying and a proclamation of love for her Greek neighbor Damien Popodopolous (Eric Bana) leaves Max with an anxiety attack that renders him emotionally and psychologically numb. He is institutionalized for 8 months and given advanced treatment (cue electric shock therapy) while Mary waits and wonders what's become of him. Eventually, she falls into a depression, as Max is diagnosed with his own, and tries to erase all evidence of their friendship.
Mary and Max continue on with their lives for some time, each trying to cope with their troubles. While Mary pouts in self-loathing, Max finds himself facing manslaughter charges when his air conditioning unit falls out of his window and crushes a mime. However, due to his mental deficiencies, he is pardoned. Shortly after, Max is astonished to see that he's won the lottery and puts his newfound wealth to good use. He buys the entire collection of Noblets action figures and a lifetime supply of chocolate. He gives the rest of his wealth to his elderly and nearly blind neighbor, Ivy, who indulges in every personal luxury before passing away and willing her fortune to a local cat shelter whose owner pockets every cent. Despite his wealth in chocolate and Noblets, Max feels unfulfilled until he figures out that his friendship with Mary, while unsettling, was incomparable and, with the encouragement of his psychiatrist, writes another letter. He apologizes for his absence and explains that he was recently diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. He lists the various traits along with a lamentation for being unable to cry properly. Elated to have finally received another letter, Mary responds and encloses a vial of her own tears as a gift to Max. Over the years they continue to write and Max learns to deal with the slightest hint of anxiety that Mary's letters might encourage.
However, while Max's world continues as normal, if not in an improving manner, Mary's life bec0o11111111mes more complicated. First comes the passing of her father who is swept away by a rogue wave while metal detecting on a beach, this coming shortly after he quit his job at the tea factory. Mary is left a sum of money and uses it to go to university to study mental disorders. Over time, she tries to gain the romantic attention of her neighbor Damien, to no avail and often with embarassing consequences, leaving her to sob alone in her room. Her failed attempts at romance leave her to lament that she wasted her savings to have her birthmark surgically removed and resigns herself to the fact that love is not for her. Meanwhile, Vera, after suffering prolonged grief and remorse for her husband, accidentally swallows a bottle of formaldehyde, mistaking it for her sherry. Still, this tragedy encouarages Damien to comfort Mary and the two soon fall in love and are married.
Mary (Toni Collette) writes that her life is now perfect with Damien, who has a pen-pal of his own in New Zealand. Her self esteem is blossoming and her studies at university have culminated into a goal to cure the world of mental illness. She writes her thesis on Asperger's Syndrome and uses Max as a case study, eventually writing her own book on the disability. She sends her first copy to Max but, upon seeing it, he is flung into an uncontrollable rage. He never thought he had a 'disability' and finds the matter surrounding his difference offensive. Unable to put his thoughts coherently to paper, Max sends his 'M' key to Mary just as she is about to visit him in New York. His silent but powerful message sends Mary into a deep depression and she takes all of her book copies to an industrial shredder and destroys them. She finds solace in two-minute noodles and sherry and wallows in her self loathing until one day she suddenly notices that Damien has left her, explaining in a letter that he's fallen in love with his pen-friend Desmond and has gone to live with him on his sheep farm.
Meanwhile, Max has since overcome his anger and decides to write Mary back. He sends her his entire collection of Noblet figures as a sign that he's forgiven her and, as he counts the stars after sending his package, suddenly feels complete.
As the package arrives on Mary's doorstep, Mary prepares to hang herself, unaware that she is pregnant. Her neighbor, Len, notices her package on the doorstep and, with a burst of confidence and purpose, wheels himself outside and across the street to ring the doorbell. The sound catches Mary off guard and she takes the noose off her neck to answer the door, finding a gleeful Len and her package. Len returns to his home triumphant as Mary finds Max's letter and his Noblet collection. Some time later, and with her new baby, Mary travels to New York and climbs the stairs of Max's apartment building. She finds his apartment and opens the unlocked door. Within, she finds the Noblets playing on the tv and Max leaning back on his sofa, having passed away peacefully that morning. As she sits beside him, Mary follows his gaze upward and is astonished to see that Max has pasted her letters all over the ceiling. She cradles her baby as she notes to herself that Max smells of licorice and old books while tears roll down her cheeks.