This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
A young Australian girl, Mary, has problems. She feels ignored at home, which is quite accurate. Her father seems happier spending his time in the shed indulging in his hobby of taxidermy. Her mother spends a lot of time gently marinading herself in cooking sherry and shoplifting. She’s picked on at school because of her prominent birthmark. She has no friends, aside from her pet rooster. Her life is not a bowl of cherries.
Meanwhile, in New York, Max isn’t without his share of problems as well. Living alone, suffering from anxiety attacks and seemingly confused by much of the world around him, his life is also not a bowl of cherries. The only solace in his life seems to come from chocolate, which is unfortunate for his waistline. His main company comes from his series of short-lived goldfish and his imaginary friend, although even he now spends his time in the corner of the room, reading.
The two wind up having into a pen-friend relationship after young Mary writes more or less on a whim, and while the simple act of receiving the letter is enough to send Max into another panic attack, he eventually calms down enough to reply. So begins a correspondence course that covers decades, seeing Mary grow up, go through University and get married, with Max’s life being, if anything, even more eventful.
Played out in fabulous stop motion animation with models packed full of character, there’s a very great deal to like in here on both a visual and narrative level. While the story itself is necessarily fanciful, the characters playing it out feel very real, very human, identifiable and sympathetic. In fact, they’re far better characterised than most live action films are.
The story is nothing less than charming, and the humour contained within it is even more impressive. With a fine line in absurdism, non-sequituers and neat visual gags again largely informed by some masterful character design, Mary and Max winds up being at least as funny as any film I’ve seen in the last year. Which is perhaps surprising, as it’s often very dark in tone and subject matter indeed. This might look like a film for kids, but the content matter really isn’t suitable for that audience, who wouldn’t be able to appreciate it either. It will be interesting to see what the certification boards make of it.
Plaudits also must go to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s superb vocal performance as Max, and while Toni Collette takes over the dramatic heavy lifting for Mary as she grows into woman, the younger voice of Bethany Whitmore provides many of the laughs, providing the charm that ensures an early audience buy-in to the shenanigans on display later.
The short form of this review is very simple – if this is shown anywhere near you, you must go and watch it. It’s amazingly good, and a very strong contender for not just film pick of this year’s festival, but for film of the year.