Friday, March 23, 2012

Mary & Max

   Mary & Max, which, as you might have guessed from the trailer, is not for kids, is a grim, bleakly animated affair, and is allowed by the director the smallest rays of sunshine. It is the story of 352-pound Jewish New Yorker Max Jerry Horowitz and a lonely eight-year-old named Mary Daisy Dinkle, who lives with her alcoholic shoplifting mother and taxidermist father (whose middle name, "Norman," and hobby of stuffing birds may be an oblique reference to Psycho) in 1976 Australia.

   A male chicken named Ethel is young Mary's only friend, while Max lives with his pets, including an ever-dying line of fish, in a cheap apartment. Max doesn't know it, but he has Asperger's, a neurological, autism-like condition which impairs social interaction. It is quite a coincidence that Max and Mary meet.

    She picks his name from a phone book and decides to ask him where babies come from in America. She has been informed by her deceased granddad that Australians find them in beer glasses. Another name, and she could have picked a pedophile, who would have been very glad to hear from her, but for different reasons. (No, this is not a story about pedophilia.)

    Max answers, in his own eccentric and slightly unrealistic way, and an unusual friendship begins, despite interference from Mary's mother, who, frankly, has a reasonable motive to be suspicious of her child's strange new pen pal. This all leads to a conclusion that made me shed a tear for the first time in an animated movie since some of Pixar's new releases.

    Mary & Max's world is populated by strange claymation characters -- a Greek stutterer, an agoraphobic amputee, and a blind widow -- who are even stranger than they sound. The animation is detailed, gratuitously weird, and frankly, a little hard to take, but the story makes up for it.

   . The bitter-sweetness of the film makes it hard not to cry a little, think a little, and lament for the loneliness that hounds some people throughout their lives. Philip Seymour Hoffman does not sound like Philip Seymour Hoffman as Max and Toni Collette is good as the adult Mary. Mary & Max is not without humor and definitely worth a watch.


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