Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • 12A
  • Animation
  • 2009

Mary & Max

Mary & Max

Synopsis

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Colette and Barry Humphries lend their vocal chords to a captivatingly offbeat claymation about two very unlikely penpals.

About

Meet Mary. She's eight years old, has eyes the colour of muddy puddles and a birthmark the colour of poo. Her mother likes to cook with sherry ('tea for grown-ups') and her father, who works in a factory attaching the string to earl grey teabags, likes to spend his spare time in the shed playing with dead birds. Not your average animation heroine. But then Adam Elliot's clayography, as heralded by his Oscar-winning 2003 short, Harvie Krumpet - about an ever-optimistic Jewish WWII refugee whose lot in life includes being struck by lightning and losing a testicle - is far from your average animation.

Despite certain kooky flourishes (Mary debates the provenance of babies with her fellow title character - her theory is that they come from the bottom of beer glasses, while Max has been informed they come from eggs laid by rabbis) which might, on the surface, be mistaken for cutesy, self-conscious affectation, this film is not child's play - neither in style nor in substance.

Alternately heart-warming and heartbreaking, the elegiacally faltering, drawn-out (the narrative spans several decades) pen pal relationship between Mary and Max - an obese 40-something lapsed Jewish New Yorker with Aspergers syndrome, whose name Mary fortuitously plucks from the phonebook - is at bottom a canny device which provides a window on to the interior world of two lonely, marginalised souls. Their platonic love affair plays out like a ballroom dance between two terminally left-footed but devoted partners - awkward, fumbling, funny and tender all at once.

Philip Seymour Hoffman in particular deserves kudos for his brilliantly droll, expressive voicing of Max - well, expressive insofar as a persistent monotone, punctuated by off-kilter syntax and intonation can be ("I live with my cat, Hal, which is short for halitosis, from which he suffers"). So too do Adam Elliot and his 50-strong crew, whose labour of love took 57 weeks to shoot.

The film's boldly sombre palette urges you to look for subtleties in technique, rather simply be dazzled by the rainbow effect characteristic of most contemporary animation. Some touches are pristinely realistic and subtle, like the quivering of lips or the welling up of eyes on a face about to cry (there are quite a few tears shed too - an innovative use of sexual lubricant, a reported 2,400 teaspoons of which were used on set). Others, like the monochrome, unwelcoming vision of Max's New York - in which a flat black sky is coldly illuminated by white pinpricks of stars - are abstractly poetic.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana, Toni Collette
  • Director: Adam Elliot
  • Writer: Adam Elliot

In a nutshell

While the film's swerves in tone can at times feel as uncomfortable as its protagonists, just like them, Elliot's unique film - a perfect marriage of form and content - has charm, curiosity and heart in spades.

by Sophie Ivan

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4 The Sitter

    The Sitter

    Jonah Hill stars as a slacker who's forced to fill in as a babysitter for a night, but the kids he's looking after prove more than he can handle when he takes them on a crime-filled trip through NYC

  • Film4 Amy

    Amy

    Senna director Asif Kapadia tells the story of Amy Winehouse in her own words with the use of unseen archive footage and previously unheard tracks

  • Film4 Evil Dead

    Saturday Night Shocks on Film4

    Horror, mystery and suspense stake its claim on the weekend. A new season of Saturday Night Shocks comes to Film4.

  • Film4 Bridesmaids

    Comedy Season 2015 on Film4

    Eight nights of contemporary comedy hits, including first plays of Cuban Fury, American Reunion, The Sitter, and the network premiere of 21 & Over, on Film4

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Top pop moments from Cannes 2015

    Cannes is always a great place to see and hear brilliant pop music, often divorced from its usual context, and 2015 has been no different. Here's my personal playlist of top pop moments from the Compe

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Critics' Week: Day Seven - Krisha

    Catherine Bray adds to a growing chorus of acclaim for Trey Edward Shults' Krisha, a feature film backed on Kickstarter to the tune of  $14,260, which went on to win the Grand Jury Award at SXSW Some

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Share