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  Mary and Max Course Of Correspondence
Year: 2009
Director: Adam Elliot
Stars: Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Humphries, Eric Bana, Bethany Whitmore, Renée Geyer
Genre: Comedy, Drama, AnimatedBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In Australia during the mid-nineteen-seventies, there was a little girl called Mary (voiced by Bethany Whitmore) who did not have any friends. She liked to watch her favourite cartoon, The Noblets, while drinking condensed milk, but everything else in her life failed to offer much pleasure, although she did have a pet rooster. Her father worked in a factory putting the string on teabags, and her mother was a little too fond of the cooking sherry, with a shoplifting habit to boot. But one day when Mary was at the library, she happened upon a New York City phonebook...

Mary and Max was animator Adam Elliot's follow up to his award-winning short Harvie Krumpet, which had been well received around the world, but how would a feature length version along the same lines be regarded? The answer to that was very well, as if you had appreciated the shorter work then while this was more of the same it was still crafted with the skill, warmth and humour that Elliot had displayed before. Of course, what an audience can tolerate over the period of twenty minutes might not have been too welcome a shade under ninety, but if you had a liking for the quirky, then you would have been well serviced by this.

Based on Eliliot's real life pen pal, it was essentially, as far as plot went, 84 Charing Cross Road for the twenty-first century, only the two correspondents were a little girl and an forty-four-year-old Jewish-American man, the Max of the title (a gravel-voiced Philip Seymour Hoffman). It is he who Mary sees in that phone book, and having torn the address out of it she proceeds to write away to him, asking him all sorts of questions as well as telling him all about herself. Max is understandably taken aback to receive this, complete with chocolate bar, but he is immediately won over because he is as lonely as Mary is and writes back with a potted life story, illustrating how he is confused by life, overweight, and living alone in a small apartment.

Elliot likes to fill in the details of his characters so spends quite some time with small items of information designed to allow us to understand them better, which on the surface have the appearance of random non sequiturs but are actually part of a tapestry of their existences. So even Mary's grandfather, who is dead before the story begins, is allowed a flashback to show us what kind of man he was but also that he told Mary babies were found in glasses of beer, which she accepts without question. Of course, now she has someone to ask about the world, in one of her letters to Max she probes his mind for answers, which he doesn't take too well.

The message is one of friendship, and how a bond can be forged between unlikely people, so Mary and Max keep up their correspondence over the years as she grows up (now voiced by Toni Collette) and falls in love with the boy across the street (Eric Bana) as she plans to solve Max's mental problems by going to university and studying psychology, a move that he is less than accepting of. Although they've never met, they go through the same trials and tribulations that any long-lasting friendship does, so there are times when they are very close but also times when they fall out, and Elliot brought a lot of genuine emotion to what could have been objects of pure ridicule. If there's a drawback, it's that he comes across as viewing these people as if from a great height, so a measure of condescension enters into it, and while there are a few laughs, the depressive tone stemming from a preoccupation with mental dysfunction doesn't exactly have you rolling on the floor. But it is sweet enough to appeal to those who like their animation out of the mainstream. Music by Dale Cornelius.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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