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Mary and Max

(Adam Elliott, 2009)

Some of you may know about Harvie Krumpet, Adam Elliott's Oscar-winning short about the weird and wonderful life of the titular character. For his feature-length claymation debut, he takes the same angle again, this time focusing on a pair of different characters and the unlikely way in which they end up connecting.

Mary (voiced as a child by Bethany Whitmore and as an adult by Toni Collette) is an eight-year-old girl growing up in a typical Australian suburb of the 1970s. She lives a lonely life - her only friends are her pet rooster and the old man across the street, while she has to deal with her dysfunctional parents. One day, her childlike curiosity about where babies come from prompts her to write a letter to an American person to ask how babies are made over there. The person she picks is Max (voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman), an overweight, neurotic middle-aged Jewish man living in New York, who lives just as lonely and odd a life as Mary. The letter from Mary comes as a shock, but he gathers the will to write back and so the pair begin an unusual friendship, with each letter having its impact on the lives of both people.

From beginning to end, Mary and Max is a strangely charming and utterly beguiling film. From the introductions of the titular characters and the unique ways in which they perceive the people and events around them, you're sucked in. Both characters maintain heavy contrast in many different ways (even their worlds are different - Australia and everthing in it is coloured in shades of brown, whereas New York is rendered in black-and-white) yet their wildly different personalities and viewpoints actually manage to make them forge a bond that lasts throughout the years.

The way that the characters and world are conveyed is excellent. As with Harvie Krumpet, Elliott's storytelling style relies less on direct speech between characters than it does with narration (the bulk of which is done by Barry Humphries, best known to people as the man behind Dame Edna Everage, whilst the characters narrate the letters that they write to each other). Everything in the world of the film is captured is also done with distinct flair - people, animals, even inanimate objects are all misshapen, overblown caricatures, which in a sense they are meant to be. The animation is very slick - I have to admit, seeing such smooth animation where I don't even notice the gaps (even with some ambitious moving camerawork thrown in for good measure) was quite impressive for me. The simplistic piano score was also great, perfect at capturing the necessary mood.

I haven't been to the theatres in a couple of months and, considering the way things have been going for me lately, needed to see a film that could make me feel better. Mary and Max delivered amply. It's a bittersweet yet ultimately uplifting story about a pair of misfits that manage to find something great in their otherwise bleak lives. If you manage to find it (I ended up seeing it in an arthouse theatre with four or five other people) I suggest you give it a shot.