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"Sometimes perfect strangers make the best friends..."
A 2009 Australian clay-animated film written and directed by Adam Elliot. The emotionally powerful Mary and Max appears to have been overshadowed by such recent, better-known stop motions as Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox, as well as the fact that it falls smack bang into the middle of theAnimation Age Ghetto.Set in the 1970-90's, and supposedlyVery Loosely Based on a True Story, Mary and Max tells the story of a friendship between two unlikely pen pals: Mary Daisy Dinkle, a lonely 8-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, and Max Jerry Horowitz, an obese 44-year old man with Asperger Syndrome living in New York City. The movie follows the story of their life and friendship over the course of Mary's childhood and adulthood. What appears to start out as a solely blackly humourous story soon turns into something quite dark and often very depressing, dealing with everything from parental neglect, to insecurity, to bullying, to suicide.
This film provides examples of:
Abhorrent Admirer: Marjorie Butterworth to Max, though largely because he seems to be asexual.
Abusive Parents: Mary's are mostly neglectful and preoccupied, though her mother also calls her fat and ugly.
Artistic License – History: Max is diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in 1980 (based on the fact that he writes Mary four years after the film's beginning in 1976 and informs her of his recent diagnosis). While AS was known about back then, but it didn't become a distinct diagnosis until 1992, so it's highly unlikely that Max would have been diagnosed.
Asexual: Max, which makes it doubly funny that Mary asks him where babies come from in America.
Big Eater: Max, although it only contributes to his obesity.
Billing Displacement: Toni Collette gets top billing for playing adult Mary despite only showing up during the final half-hour of the film. The narrator, Hoffman (Max) and Whitmore (Young Mary) have more lines than she does.
Bittersweet Ending: Max forgives Mary and she comes to visit him for the first time with her newborn baby... only to find that he passed away, albeit peacefully, on the very morning that she arrives. And then Mary looks up to see that Max has laminated all of her letters and attached them to the ceiling in his home.
Perhaps the most extreme one was in an (spoofed) Deleted Scene on the DVD, where the ending has Mary finding Max's body on the couch as in the real ending - except this time, his pets are tearing it apart, as per her thoughts during Max's breakdown. The other gag was after Len had saved the day - instead of crossing the street and narrowly avoiding the car, it instead hits and flings him offscreen.
Chekhov's Gunman: Mary's disabled neighbour, who overcomes his agoraphobia just in time to save her from killing herself.
Crapsack World: Arguably. The world in which the characters live is far more grounded in reality than most PG-rated claymation works.
Crazy Enough to Work: Max's suggestion that Mary tell a bully that her birthmark is made of chocolate, which means she'd be in charge of chocolate when she got to heaven. This made the bully cry.
Deliberately Monochrome or Splash of Color: Scenes that follow Max in New York City are black and white with the occasional splash of color. Scenes that follow Mary in Australia are sepia-tone with the occasional splash of color. Interestingly, once Mary comes to visit Max, she's still sepia-toned when everything around her is black and white, and their exchanged gifts retain their origin's coloration.
Despair Event Horizon: Max hates Mary for publishing a book about Asperger's syndrome with him as the subject, primarily because she'd expressed a desire to cure it when he'd explicitly stated in one of his letters that he saw nothing that needed "fixing". Mary becomes incredibly depressed and then Damien leaves her for his pen-pal friend. Later, we see Mary trying to hang herself.
Disappeared Dad: Max's father, who left his wife and son on a kibbutz, and is otherwise never mentioned again.
Doctor Jerk: Played with for Doctor Bernard Hazelhof: Max's psychologist. He seems to insult Max a few times, over his low intelligence, and calls his dreams of owning the Nobblets and chocolate stupid. However, he does help Max through his problems and encourages his friendship with Mary, saying that it is beneficial to him. And after Max feels betrayed, he helps to convince him that no one is perfect, and friends can sometimes say bad things or stuff out of ignorance, but you should forgive them if you really are their friend. He also tries to promote a healthier lifestyle to Max.
Foreshadowing: The narrator explains that Max would iron, laminate, then store all of Mary's letters in a special place, which is revealed at the end of the movie - Max's gaze upward while ironing hints toward where he put her letters, along with the placement of his Life Goals list earlier in the movie.
The subject of Damian's sexuality is heavily foreshadowed as well - he wanted to be in theater, he made Mary's wedding dress, they honeymooned at Mykonos, and the aforementioned ambiguous attitude towards his and Mary's consummating their marriage.
Friendship Trinket: One of Mary's first gifts to Max was a little red pom-pom she'd made, which he puts on top of his yarmulke for the rest of the film except for when he and Mary have their falling out when she graduates from college.
Grave Humor: On the headstone for Mary's grandfather; "Born in a barn in the hills of Baronia/ lived a full life, then died of pneumonia." Later, similarly appropriate quips are written on those of her parents.
Hollywood Atheist: Averted. Max doesn't believe in God because he's "read many books that prove God is a figment of [his] imagination". Despite this, he doesn't really make much of a big deal about it.
Idea Bulb: Both characters get this when they come up with an idea to help the other out.
Imaginary Friend: Max has one, "Mr. Ravioli", who quietly sits in the corner reading books since Max's psychologist said it wasn't healthy. His eventual departure from Max's apartment is what kickstarts his first reconciliation with Mary.
Imagine Spot: Max wound up in some trouble for one during his job as a trash collector, because he liked pretending he was "an intergalactical robot". A bystander called the police on him.
Informed Judaism: Averted. Although Max doesn't act particularly Jewish as an adult (except for wearing a yarmulke) it's clear he was a member of a fairly strict Orthodox sect as a kid.
Inherently Funny Words: Max asks Mary what she thinks of the word "Kumquat" before detailing his other favorites.
Max: My top-five are "ointment," "bumblebee," "Vladivostok," "banana," and "testicle."
Innocent Inaccurate: Mostly averted, as Mary's mother "borrows" things from the store, but Mary realizes that something about it is off.
Insistent Terminology: Max tends to lapse into this when addressing people (e.g. Mary Daisy Dinkle, Doctor Bernard Hazelhof), though only refers to himself by his full name once. Truth in Television: People with Asperger's Syndrome tend to state things using the most precise terms possible, out of fear that they won't communicate their point properly otherwise.
The Insomniac: Max becomes this whenever his life is thrown into disarray.
Neologism: Max indulges in this heavily, detailing three examples in a letter to Mary. "Confuzzled" meaning confused/puzzled, "Snirt" for a snow/dirt mix, and "Smushables" - groceries that were smushed at the bottom of the bag.
Nervous Wreck: Max becomes one anytime his life is "disrupted". This meant that Mary's first letter resulted in him rocking in a corner before staring out the window in thought for 18 hours, and her letter asking him about sex sent him to a mental ward for almost a year.
Red Scare: Max lost his job in the Army because he had been a Communist at one point.
Replacement Goldfish: Literally. Several, in fact. Moments after we are introduced to Henry the Eighth, we are informed that there have been seven Henrys before him. We see the demise of future Henrys throughout the film.
Theme Naming: Max has 3 snails named after famous scientists - Einstein, Edison, and one with a cracked shell named Hawking.
Timeshifted Actor: Bethany Whitmore plays Mary as a child. Toni Collette plays her as an adult.
Time Skip: Takes place after Max and Mary first rekindle their friendship.
Too Dumb to Live: Lots of unwise decisions get made, but none worse than that of the mime. If he had time to dig out an umbrella and open it tremblingly, he could've used that time to get out of the way.
The Unsmile: Max's attempt to display "happiness" freaks out the hobo in front of his building though partially because Max had recently attacked him for littering.
Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Apart from the director's 20-year friendship with the source for the Max character, (who was still alive at the time of the film's release and might still be today), mostly fiction.
Warts and All: Coupled with Be Yourself as the main message of the movie, and name-dropped a couple of times by Max (and by extension, Dr. Bernard Hazlehof).