Starts August 26
Academy Award-winning writer/director Adam Elliot and producer Melaine Coombs embark on a project using clayography in their animated feature Mary and Max. They collaborate with the voices of actors, Toni Collette (Mary), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Max), Bethany Whitmore (young Mary), Barry Humphries (The Narrator) and Eric Bana (Damien) to develop the tale of an unlikely friendship cultivated by the art of letter writing. I believe that their creative style of storytelling was the reason Mary and Max was chosen to open the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. It was the personification of the festival’s theme called “Storytime” and the festival’s unique purpose as addressed by Sundance Institute’s Founder and President, Robert Redford, “Every year there will always be space for new stories to be told in new ways…”
Mary Dinkle is a chubby eight-year-old girl from Australia desperately seeking a pen pal. Through a series of mishaps her advertisement for such a friend lands in the mailbox of Max Horovitz from New York City. Max is a 44-year-old, single, Jewish man who is severely obese and suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. Max answers Mary’s plea for a letter-writing companion and therein begins the journals of Mary and Max. Their encounter spans a life-long journey of surprise discoveries through word and deed including confrontations held dear by the most intimate of relationships. Their strange compassion for one another is what they live for until the inevitable happens and Max is gone.
Mary and Max is animation at its best, and that director Adam Elliot chooses to use claymatic figures adds to the moving quality and charm of the characters. The story is simple, poignant and evocative of the frailty and frugalities of society; that one of the characters has a mental disorder takes us to another level of understanding.
New Yorker Max (voice Philip Seymour Hoffman), in his forties, obese and with Asperges Syndrome, inadvertently becomes the pen pal of 8-year-old Australian Mary Dingle (voice Toni Collette). With every missive their friendship grows: precisely because the young Mary does not recognize any differences in Max and her level of communication. As the years pass, the trust between them is tried, but ultimately dissuades any misgivings. Until the day the adult Mary arrives in New York to meet her far-away friend.
Elliot and his team maintain a balance of funny, serious, and sad scenes. Color is used cleverly: grays, with red for Max, and everything subdued to depict the emotive elements intrinsic to the characters. Five years to make, in Mary and Max there is nothing not to like, and on some level relate to; it is so endearing to watch it quite simply takes ones breath away.