I've been chugging along spending my 2009 film viewing time watching awful films like "The Awful Truth" and "Observe and Report" thinking that they are never going to have ten films to nominate for Best Picture at the next Oscar Awards when this film is dropped into my lap and everything is alright again in the world. Using stop-motion animation, director/screenwriter Adam Elliot (director of the animated short "Harvie Krumpet" which won an Oscar in 2003) has made a film that is so heartfelt, quirky, tender, realistic, touching, and funny that I doubt many will come close to its genius this year.
Mary Dinkle (Toni Collette/Bethany Whitmore) is a lonely 8-year-old who lives in the suburbs of Melbourne. To cope with her kleptomaniac mother's alcoholism and her meek and mild father's withdrawal from her life Mary decides to write to a person she chooses randomly out of the U.S. phone book to ask where do babies come from in the United States because her departed grandfather had told her that they came from the bottom of beer glasses in Australia.
The name she hurriedly rips out is that of one Max Horovitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a 44-year-old, obese, overeater who also suffers from Aspergers Syndrome and lives in New York. What follows after Max responds to Mary's letter is that these two lonely souls become pen pals for the next 20 odd years. And I do mean odd. They become each other's only friends and it is a friendship which survives more than its share of ups and downs.
We have all gone to films that start off with the words "based on a true story" across the screen. While watching "Mary and Max" I thought that this is one of the few times that I actually believed those words. The film is nothing else if not 'real'. And that is saying something considering I am talking about an animated film. It has that personal feel about it. Makes me curious about whose life it is based on.
This is definitely an animated film for adults. It is not your typical slick and realistic looking Pixar production. It looks and feels different from most anything you will see. Despite the fact that it is animated "Mary and Max" tackles some serious issues like mental illness, loneliness, alcoholism, death, depression, and chocolate (c'mon, chocolate is a deadly serious subject). Though the movie is often depressing it never stoops to wallowing. The characters keep trudging on in life. Living day by day like the rest of us mere mortals.
I think that if this film does not at least get nominated for Best Picture this year then I don't know….I give up! I also hope that it gets the wide audience it deserves. If you only go to one film this year make it this one!