Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review - Mary and Max

Finally got to see this one on DVD, and just in time to make it eligible for the Oscar Nazi Awards too!

Mary and Max is an absolute gem. Despite a quiet and relatively low profile release stateside, it is better than any American animated product of 2009, and that's some stiff competition. Adam Elliot is the mastermind behind this humourous and moving piece of work, filling it with highly mature and adult issues not commonly seen in cartoons.

The story centres around the long-lasting long-distance correspondence of two unlikely penpals: Mary, a lonely little girl in Australia, and Max, a lonely middle-aged man in New York City. Their friendship sees them through over twenty hard years of life, as both of them grapple with their personal issues. Mary is a child of two emotionally negligent parents, she has no friends, she hates her body, and she yearns for somebody to love her. Max had a similarly unhappy childhood, is overweight, has lost faith in God, and struggles with a mental handicap. Both of their problems can ultimately be traced back to a lack of self-esteem, to self-loathing of one's imperfections. It is by their love of each other that Mary and Max can learn to love themselves.

What's most remarkable about Elliot's film is his clever treatment of such dicey subject matter. His sharp (at times macabre) sense of humour maintains levity consistently throughout, with special thanks to Barry Humphries' eloquent narration. He's able to probe themes like religion, alcoholism, abuse, sexuality, and even suicide without ever seeming heavy-handed. We chuckle through our characters' plights, but we genuinely care for them as well because they have been so skillfully conceived and realized; they feel like real people instead of claymation caricatures.

The colour palette Elliot employs is simple but memorable; browns in Australia and black & white in New York, with some artfully placed reds here and there.

A nod for Animated Feature is completely deserved, but alas and alack, I fear the nomination may not be attainable in the face of higher-profile competition. No Oscar for this treasure.

*** out of ****

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