Mary and Max – animated stop motion film review
Mary and Max is a 2009 stop motion film. Or as my boyfriend put it – “the same way they do Wallace and Gromit”. It’s rated 12 in the UK which seems fairly normal for a ‘serious issues’ kids film but upon watching it I decided it wasn’t a kids film at all. Mary and Max is an animated film for grown ups (but not in the same way as Family Guy).
The premise is fairly self-explanatory – Mary (Toni Collette) is a young girl from Australia who is bullied at school and called an ‘accident’ by her alcoholic mother. She begins corresponding with Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman) a morbidly obese guy from New York who has Asperger syndrome and lives a lonely life. Straight away that sounds cool, right? A thoughtful, sad and lovely tale that won’t leave a dry eye in the house.
Well, good things first. The film was instantly captivating. As well as being pleasing to the eye and finding myself immediately interested in both main characters, the story is told in a simplistic style similar to that of a children’s book – which I enjoyed. There is a narrator (Barry Humphries) which is something I enjoy in any film and a silly, irreverent humour that is usually aimed at kids (and me). For instance when Humphries is describing Mary’s birthmark, he calls it “the colour of poo”. And poo is just a silly word isn’t it.
The friendship and correspondence between Mary and Max is very beautiful to watch. I’m a softie anyway and seeing two people who find life pretty tough finding solace in one another, is very endearing and heart wrenching to watch. One letter from Mary had me in tears after she wrote to Max “have you ever been teased? Can you help me?” – heart breaking right? Poor little poppet.
But Mary and Max is also very funny – and not just because they use the word poo. As well as being reminiscent at times of Roald Dahl’s children’s books (Mary’s father works in a factory putting the strings on teabags) it’s darkly funny. I spied a tube of “vaginal cream” in Mary’s mother’s medicine cupboard as well as the word “fuck” graffiti-ed on Max’s tube train. So the adult jokes and references are in plentiful supply and twinned with some of the dark themes and violence, as I said before – this is definitely an animated film for the grown ups.
But I’m genuinely sorry to say I didn’t end up loving Mary and Max as much as I thought I would. It started off so wonderfully and I really was enthralled but – after the first 50 minutes the film became more and more contrived and went in a direction I never expected. I couldn’t help but think the story was just trying too hard to be poignant and hard hitting. The entire soundtrack could have been The Smiths singing ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’.
I don’t want to give any spoilers or put people off because this is still an incredible film that is funny, sad, charming and tackles issues in a unique way – I would recommend it to all of you. But without saying too much, it just gets…….kind of ridiculous – for me anyway, we’ll all have different views. But there were scenes I should have been crying at or at least felt emotionally connected to, but I just couldn’t believe in what I was seeing and instead felt marginally embarrassed. Parts of the plot felt too forced and affected and I don’t think the film benefited – at all – from being quite so dark.
But that being said, I must reiterate that Mary and Max is well worth watching and I will be giving it a second watch myself at some point (as well as Harvie Krumpet – a similar animated film by director Adam Elliot about a man with Tourettes).
And of course it was nice that dear Philip Seymour Hoffman was in the film, voicing Max. It was hard to imagine it was him at times (bringing back memories of Capote!) as the gruff, old school ‘New Ywarker’ accent he did was absolutely spot on. And as a young lady from England I’m entirely qualified to judge that I know… (but it was still awesome, okay?)
All in all I was slightly disappointed by some parts of Mary and Max and I didn’t like the ending but that’s personal and doesn’t take away that’s it’s a very original movie with a sweet sentiment that you won’t see every day. It’s not even that long, about 85 minutes and it wasn’t expensive to buy either. If you’re a fan of animation and stop motion or you just want something a bit different to Pixar or Studio Ghibli, I would highly recommend it.