Mary (Toni Collette) is an 8-year-old living in Melbourne; Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a 44-year-old New Yorker. The two become unlikely pen pals in this Australian animation.
Aardman meets Kaufman in this 2009 comedy/drama, narrated by Barry Humphries. Not only does it feature Hoffman from Synecdoche, New York and explore mental illness through claymation like Anomalisa, its fragile characters, distinctive worldview and surreal ideas feel quite Kaufman-esque: Mary’s dad works in a factory attaching the strings to tea bags; Max’s imaginary friend Mr. Ravioli leaves through the window one day and never comes back.
Adam Elliot sculpts every frame with love and intelligence. Production took more than 57 weeks, using 133 sets, 212 puppets, 475 miniature props and over 2400 teaspoons of lubricant for water effects. The result is a loveable reflection on loneliness, friendship and mental health, where weird charm and jet-black humour flow like lube.
Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is in representing an autistic point of view, in a way that’s both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply understanding. It’s more accessible and charming than Anomalisa, effortlessly balancing moments of tenderness with grotesque Aussie comedy and a wonderful sense of the surreal. The film doesn’t shy away from but rather embraces depression, alcoholism, nudity, obesity and taxidermy.
Mary and Max is an artistic, autistic delight, with compassion, empathy and hilarity hand-crafted into every bizarre frame. It reassures that imperfection is not a crime; to ignore this film certainly is.