Baron Dave Romm (barondave) wrote,
Baron Dave Romm

Mary and Max: A disturbing and brilliant movie

Carole and I have just finished watching an extraordinary movie, Mary and Max (IMDb) Mary and Max (Netflix). The story unfolds slowly, alternately disturbing and uplifting. I can't, in good conscience, give a blanket recommendation. A very powerful film that flew beneath my radar during its release in 2009, and we saw it on DVD.

Mary and Max tells the story of two people who form a pen pal relationship. Mary, an 8-year-old girl with strange (in a bad way) parents who has no friends and lives in Australia. Max, a 44-year-old atheist Jew with Aspergers, who has severe neurosis and who lives in New York City. Slow and deliberate, the 92-minute movie sucks you in right away and never drags.

Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the film centers around mental illness. But Mary and Max is nothing like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

An Aardman production, the film is in claymation, like Wallace and Grommit. But Mary and Max is nothing like Wallace and Grommit.

Written and directed by Adam Elliot, Oscar winner for the animated short Harvie Krumpet (included on the DVD); Elliot does a good commentary track. He has a sick mind, but knows how to tell a downer story that somehow makes you feel better. Mary and Max is told sequentially in voiceover, cross-cutting between Australia and New York.

The whole movie was shot in camera; that is, no digital images. They built all the sets and figures. You see what the camera saw. Very little actual animation or post-production digital clean up. Even the rain is claymation. The movie took 57 weeks to shoot, but only cost $8 million (Aus). A labor of love by professionals at the top of their craft.

The music under the DVD menu is Swinging Safari, instantly recognizable by anyone of a certain bent as the theme song to The Match Game. You don't hear that particular piece again until the end credits. Thematically, the music selection is very good, part of an excellent sound design. The voice actors are perfect.

On the first viewing, I couldn't decide whether it was one of the best movies ever made, or to give it an Avoid listing. After all the extras on the disk, including watching the movie again under the commentary, I'm going with the former. On the Shockwave Radio Theater scale of 9 to 23, with 23 being top, I'd give Mary and Max about a 21 or 22. Not for children; probably not for all adults either.

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