Film & TV

Review: Mary and Max

Mary & Max is quite possibly my favourite film of 2010. Despite being released way back in early 2009 in its native Australia, the film has only just recently made it over here for general circulation. It was while viewing the trailers preceding Mr Nice that I first stumbled upon Mary & Max. It looked interesting; the visual style is instantly appealing to the eyes, so I made a note to see it when it opened in late October.

In the run-up to release I began to become more aware of the film, and the remarkably positive reception it was getting in the UK. The film has achieved an impressive 8.3/10 on imdb so far, and a 94% positive rating from the critics on rottentomatoes. There is no doubt in my mind that this positivity is entirely justified and perhaps even a little understated.

Initially, the visuals deserve particular attention. Adam Elliot, the films writer and director has his own style. ‘Claymation’ (clay animation) as it’s known, takes a painstaking amount of time and attention to detail to perfect, but if you get it right, it looks very impressive. Mary & Max goes one step further; it looks stunning. From the depiction of the Australian country, to the New York skyline, the film looks fluid, beautiful and, perhaps most importantly, alive. Primarily created in black and white and sepia, there are various flashes of colour (the pompom max wears on his head for example), sometimes I find this type of style a little pretentious, however in this case the sparse use of colour is perfect.

The plot of the film involves two major characters (as you may have assumed). Mary, a young girl from Australia, and Max, an obese man from New York. They inadvertently become pen pals, and from that point on the story tracks their development as people, following them over a long number of years. The plot is beautifully crafted, managing to be compelling, uplifting and often heart-wrenching. The characters themselves are intensely likeable, and, integral to the film’s success, easily recognisable as human beings. They are both very flawed individuals, and it is their struggle to overcome these flaws that the movie depicts. The topics it deals with are very serious ones, for example, mental health is an important aspect. However, to counteract the films depth, in an attempt to stop it from being oppressive, there are many comic moments. These were often genuinely funny, and at one or two highlights the audience responded with rapturous laughter. The voice-over cast is also very good, and Barry Humphries as the narrator worked particularly well.

What makes Mary & Max exceptional is its attention to detail. There are many intricate touches that are absolutely brilliant. My favourite of these has to be Mary’s neighbour who suffers from ‘agoraphobia’ (which she incorrectly calls ‘homophobia’). Whenever he attempts to venture out of his house he is always thwarted by an unlikely event that sends him back inside terrified. While the mention of agoraphobia contributes to the films handling of mental illnesses, it’s not integral to the story, it is a side-plot that unfolds mostly in the background, and is highly amusing. I have no doubt that I missed a large number of other details that would take a second viewing to pick up on, however one that I did notice is in a scene that depicts a graveyard. The headstones bear names of people who worked on the film, i.e. Adam Elliot himself can be seen on one.

Some of the only real criticism Mary & Max has had regards its length. The Guardian’s Phillip French stated that the film was “overlong”. I can’t agree in the slightest. Sure, the pacing is slow and drawn-out, but this itself has purpose; the film is full of such wonderful, intricate details,that you need time to admire not only the writing, but also the mise-en-scene. I have noticed a worrying trend of recent fims being criticised for their length. Mary & Max runs at a mere ninety minutes, in my opinion close to the minimum for a feature-length production.

To conclude, I thoroughly enjoyed Mary & Max for a variety of separate reasons. It manages to be deep and interesting, tackling serious subjects in a tasteful manner, while also being light-hearted and highly amusing. I thoroughly recommend it, and would be very surprised if anyone doesn’t find much to enjoy here.

Tom Grater

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2 Comments on this post.
  • Michael de V
    29 November 2010 at 01:13
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    I hadn’t heard of this film, but after reading this, I really really do! Great review!

  • Josh Franks
    29 November 2010 at 13:52
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    It’s arguably one of the best films released this year; heartwarming and very funny. Hit the nail on the head here, Tom, it’s well worth seeing.

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