Director: Adam Elliot
Starring: Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Runtime: 90 minutes
Mary and Max
Striking, deftly stylised and emotionally resonant. Usually, that is what one searches for within the realms of the animation genre; and Mary and Max duly delivers in that department. Toni Collette imparts an enchanting, warm voice to the character of Mary - a small, fragile 8-year-old girl, paranoid and lonely due to the neglect represented by her mother, a cold, alcoholic and arrogant woman - and her father, a conspicuously unsatisfied man; both in life and his monotonous occupation. Mary finds solace in Max, a forty-four year old man living in New York, who has suffered from obesity and autism from a very young age, after finding his number in a phone book whilst trying to discover where babies come from in America. The relationship is atypical (making way for a very profound and confounding societal commentary) but the two are able to relate in social neglect, taste in television and their love for chocolate, cake and other confections. Their friendship valiantly fights on through many significant events as the pair grow older, such as Mary's marriage and brief spell of success with a book about Asperger's (which infuriates Max) and Max winning the lottery and overcoming people's judgmental views and standpoints on him. It does all of that brilliantly, but Mary and Max didn't quite live up to the grand eulogies bestowed upon it by many fellow film lovers.
One of the critical problems I found within the film, is that it has damaging pacing problems. Instead of slowly and skillfully moving through the time periods embroidered with the film, it scarpers through them, leaving less time for emotion to resonate. When a friendship starts - especially in the unusual circumstances of this particular one - it takes time for the relationship to become strong and flourish - when the film simply rushes through the character's ages, how are we expected to see, admire and enjoy this happening? Mary and Max succeeds thoroughly in a lot of areas and aspects, but unfortunately, structure isn't one of them, and it shows vividly. It's also very difficult to become immersed, involved and engrossed with a character's development when crucial parts of their development are skipped to speed up the story line. Perhaps a longer running time would have been a little bit more appropriate for this film to evade such problems, but there's always the unfortunate barrier that the film might grow boring if the running time is extended. Nonetheless, I was left bitterly disappointed and unimpressed by the chronological route that the narrative took.
Returning to where the film succeeds, the soundtrack is absolutely BEAUTIFUL - the use of 'Perpetuum Mobile' by Penguin Cafe Orchestra blends stunningly with the contrasting light and dark atmospheres reflected throughout Mary and Max, along with many other delightful tunes of differing genres, each slotting perfectly into their selected scenes. Secondly, the majority of the film is narrated, and although I don't always enjoy narration - it works wonders here - with Barry Humphries adjusting the tone of his voice skillfully to be apt to the mood. The dialogue is very sharp, witty and not susceptible to cliche and niches; it is unique and distinct. The animation - although having been done before - feels original and authentic, likely due to it being melded with a distinctive broody atmosphere and fresh characters for the genre; ones you wouldn't usually find in your quintessential animation. In general, the animation is animation in its finest form - beautiful to look at, exhilarating and due to its feel of originality, it doesn't get boring - making way for some pretty solid eye candy. Mary and Max has many thriving minuscule aspects, but the ones mentioned are the ones that are heavy and dense enough as to stand out from the crowd.
My next complaint is not so much a devastating flaw within the film, but instead a personal reason: the film never really 'clicked' for me. Normally when I watch a film that I consider masterful, I am usually comfortable within the opening segment of a film, but here, I never genuinely felt comfortable. I don't think it was anything to do with the unwonted feel of the film in terms of genre, but perhaps because every time I almost became fully accustomed with the film, I found a slight flaw that would retract back to the uncomfortable sensation that I had prior. Another personal problem that I had with it is that I could never help but compare it to Fantastic Mr. Fox - one of my person favourite animations - and if you were to ask me why I continuously made these comparisons, I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you. This never-ending subconscious feeling of similarity between the two films throughout the viewing experience has probably deteriorated my overall opinion of the film, as I probably felt subconsciously that Mary and Max had to live up to Fantastic Mr. Fox to garner a higher rating from me, which is why a second viewing of this film is guaranteed from me, and next time, I shall train myself not to make the comparison.
If you have consistently read my reviews, you will know that if I give a film a rating any lower than 3.5/4, I'm very critical of it, it's just the way I write. However, a lot of films that I roast are in total, good films - and that's exactly what Mary and Max is. I found a lot of flaw - personal and impersonal - but it compensates by being a very enjoyable, fresh and praiseworthy venture. It undoubtedly warrants a second viewing from me, and in all honesty, I'm looking forward to it, because despite the difficulties I had watching it, it was a unique and unparalleled viewing experience, and the audacity and daring intentions of Adam Elliot and all involved with Mary and Max shine through. A fair warning - don't watch this film if you're in a good mood, and don't want that mood to be disturbed - this film will destroy, jolt, and revive your emotion within the proximity of a few scenes. To conclude, if you haven't seen Mary and Max, it is, evidently, worth a watch. Even if you feel similar to me on initial viewing, it has enough cute quirks and strong aspects to follow through from any flaw. As I said, I look forward to watching this again, and I also look forward to contemplating the intricate and singular experience that I have just sustained.