In “Mary and Max,” Mary is an Australian outcast with “eyes the color of muddy puddles” and a brown birthmark on her forehead.
Her only connections to the world are her pet rooster, her taxidermist father and her klepto mom — who “tests” the cooking Sherry on the daily.
She’s bullied at school, and her only solace is drinking condensed milk and watching “The Noblets.”
Max is a squirrelly New Yorker with Asperberg’s Syndrome. He floats between jobs and chocolate recipes and frequents Overeaters Anonymous meetings.
At the post office, Mary randomly picks Max’s name out of a phone book and her curiosity and longing for a connection prompts her to reach out.
Through childlike type and misspelled words, she asks where babies come from in America. (She thinks dads find them at the bottom of beer pints.)
Because of his condition, Mary’s letter gives Max an anxiety attack. After that settles, his own loneliness moves him to engage with her through snail nail.
He answers Mary’s question with what he was told at age 4: “Babies come from eggs laid by rabbis,” he writes, while a claymation rabbi sits on an egg, puffing a cig.
“If you’re an atheist, they come from dirty, lonely prostitutes.”
I laughed out loud at the absurdity and charm in his delivery that is without judgment or prejudice — like that of a child.
But in the same breath, Max says his mother shot herself when he was a kid — and that he loves chocolate hot dogs.
And at that, I knew I would cry at this film’s seamless mix of weighty tragedy and the levity of uncomplicated perspective.
Writer/director Adam Elliot uses clay animation as a storytelling device perfectly — juxtaposing childlike figures with humorous imagery, unpretentious communication and heartbreak.
Philip Seymour Hoffman (rest in peace) and Toni Collette voice the title characters, and way to go. Every crack and rise of the voice further illuminated Mary and Max, their plights and their personal triumphs.
Props to director Elliot, too. I was so taken with this film’s production complexity — the wiry hair on Mary’s head, the detailed claymation water and the deliberate use of color.
Max’s New York is strictly black, white and gray, while Mary’s Australia is muddy, brown and sepia. Their color palettes change as they affect one another.
The only life in Max’s drab apartment is Mary’s self-portrait in crayon and a red pom-pom she made, which he wears on his yarmulke. Max’s black-and-white picture he sends her is a welcomed contrast to Mary’s murky home. And this directorial choice only reinforced this story.
“Mary and Max” is incredibly charming, smart and heavy-hitting. The claymation grabbed me from the get-go, and the story, in its poignant simplicity, held me until the last frame.
And I ugly-cried at its touching conclusion.
It’s so worth a watch.
Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.
IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.