Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, 2009)
I will try to draw this out to review length, but it has been some ten months since I saw Mary and Max, and it has been hard for me to find anything to say about it but this: Mary and Max is, by far, the best film I saw in 2013. In fact, it is one of the best films I have seen in any year; as of this writing, it is currently sitting at #16 on my 1000 Best list. (The next film down the list I first viewed in 2013 is Berberian Sound Studio, which sits at #32.) It is a profoundly affecting, perfectly-related story with near endless heart. While I know there are people out there who fit the description, I simply can’t imagine anyone not loving this. And to top it all off—it’s claymation.
Plot: Mary (voice of Blackwood‘s Bethany Whitmore) is a lonely Australian girl who decides she needs a pen pal. She goes to the library, piecks out a phone book at random, and then stabs her finger down on a name, copies the address, and writes a letter. In this way, she introduces herself to Max (voice of Love Liza‘s Philip Seymour Hoffman), a forty-four-year-old shut-in from New York City. Max is, at first, hesitant, but, with a few interruptions, thus begins a twenty-year correspondence between the two, and they—both with mental issues (Mary is depressed, Max has a disorder the revelation of which is one of the movie’s big twists—though many who have friends who suffer the same disorder will be able to pinpoint it long before Max does)—find their best friends in each other.
While this is not, ostensibly, a romance (though there is an undercurrent of that throughout), I can’t imagine a purveyor of same, be they novelist, scriptwriter, director, poet, whatever, who would not be able to draw endlessly on Mary and Max for inspiration and advice; this is a textbook on how to build flawed, relatable characters that audiences can easily identify with. The deepening friendship between the two, as well, is pitch-perfect as regards its pacing and the changing emotions between the two. Nothing about this feels staged or artificial, and while I know I have mentioned this already in the review, it bears repeating: the painstaking attention to building realistic characters and situations is underlined, triple and bold, in red, by this being claymation rather than live action. No wild flights of fantasy here; Elliot gives us a simple story, simply told, and he does it with such phenomenal empathy that it is impossible, at least I find it so, not to be as affected by this as anything else I have ever seen. Mary and Max is one of cinema’s crowning achievements, as perfect and beautiful in its execution as Hotaru no Haka, and it deserves to be just as highly regarded.*****