Movies: Mary & Max * * * *
A kind of ode to the marginalised, Mary & Max is the work of Australian animator Adam Elliot, who won an Oscar in 2003 for his inspired short, Harvie Krumpet. That film, like this, used stop-motion techniques to explore the lonely stragglers on society's margins, but both works remain hugely entertaining and accessible thanks to regular doses of salty Australian wit.
This film begins in a dingy Melbourne suburb in 1976, where eight-year-old Mary Daisy Dinkle lives in challenging circumstances. Her mother burns food and drinks sherry in the daytime, while her father hides in his shed stuffing roadkill, leaving Mary to cope pretty much on her own. She's bullied at school, has no friends and is obsessed with a birthmark on her forehead she believes is "the colour of poo".
Mary's grip on reality is tenuous, and she has become convinced that babies come from the bottom of beer glasses. She wonders if this is just an Australian thing, and if American babies arrive in different citcumstances, so she picks a random name in a New York phone directory and sends an inquiring letter. The recipient is Max Horozitz, a morbidly obese 44-year-old recluse who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome. Max and Mary become firm pen pals, and over the years each attempts to assist the other's painful progress through life.
Beautifully animated by Elliot, Mary & Max features two terrific voice performances from Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman, with Barry Humphries providing the wry and knowing animation. Max's New York is a gloomy black and white, Mary's Melbourne a withered shade of dun, and there's a real unity of intention to Elliot's film. Maybe things get a bit too bleak late on, but Mary & Max is a daring, dark, hilarious and thoroughly grown-up cartoon.