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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Mary and Max (2009)

Mary and Max owes a lot to Harry and Maude.  It is an incredibly bittersweet tale about two lonely people, one a girl and one a middle aged man, who form a friendship. It wavers between poignant and absurd.  There's a childlike naivete and innocence to both Mary, a little Australian girl, and Max, a New York Jew with Asperger's syndrome, but also cut with a sense of cynicism and black comedy. The fact that this is stop-motion animation, beautifully done in black and white with small touches in color is a boon. Had this been shot live action, it would just be dreary and melancholy. But because it's happening to goofy little clay figures, it gives it just the right sense of detachment where you can love the characters for all their foibles and the awful experiences they endure rather than feel dragged through their own private hells. It's not a happy little film, but it's certainly a rich and sweet one.

Young Mary Dinkle (Bethany Whitmore and Toni Collette) is a friendless eight-year-old with a pet rooster named Ethel, a frumpy pair of glasses, and a birthmark on her forehead. Her father fills teabags and spends his spare time doing amateur taxidermy in a shed, and her mother is an alcoholic shoplifter who steals and drinks to excess.  Her grandfather tells her that in Australia babies are found at the bottom of beer glasses. Wondering how babies are born in America, she chooses a name at random from a phone book and sends her first letter, along with a crayon self-portrait, to Max Horowitz.

Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a 44-year old overweight Jew living alone in his post WW II apartment in New York. He attends Overeaters Anonymous meetings, which are his only social interactions. He keeps numerous pets, watches children's programs, and eats a steady diet of kugel and latkes. He receives Mary's letter, and writes back to her on his old typewriter, telling him about himself and his theories on life.  Their friendship is not linear and they both have psychiatric issues that interfere with their communication and their ability to get pleasure from life.  Theirs is not a romance but they have a major impact on each others lives.  This is not a cartoon for children, but one not to be missed.

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