In honor of the recent passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman, I decided to watch one of his movies and happened upon one that is both on IMDb’s Top 250 and Netflix: Mary & Max. I had never even heard of it before searching on Netflix, so I really did not know what to expect aside from the fact that it’s an animated film. To be completely honest, it is not one of my favorite movies – it’s only around 90 minutes long, but I still found myself losing interest halfway through, which makes me think it would work much better as a short film than feature-length. Here it’s notable that the film’s writer and director Adam Elliot previously won an Oscar for the short film Harvie Krumpet in 2003.
Aside from that critique, I thought it definitely had its fair share of sweet, funny and touching moments. It begins by introducing an 8-year-old Mary living outside Melbourne, Australia with her mom, who is addicted to sherry, and her dad, who is a taxidermist. She has an unfortunate birthmark on her forehead that has caused a lack of confidence in herself as well as bullying from classmates so that she has no friends. While at the post office, she chooses a random name from a New York phone book and sends Max J. Horowitz a letter. Thus begins years of exchanging letters between the two as they become pen pals and close friends despite never having met face-to-face. On the other hand, Max is an older man who is overweight and suffers anxiety about nearly everything. Just reading letters from Mary causes panic attacks that take various amounts of time to recover from. He goes to Overeaters Anonymous for a while before quitting because it just causes more anxiety, and discusses how he is an Atheist despite being raised Jewish. As two lonely, flawed people they quickly form a bond.
The story itself is touching – we see Mary grow up, grow confident, and then lose that confidence; we see Max go from constantly anxious and socially awkward, to someone who wants to make the effort to relate to those around him. He may never have given up his beloved chocolate, as he bought a lifetime supply with his lottery winnings, but later in life he rediscovers a book a faces and teaches himself to smile – not just inside his head.
Aesthetically, the film really appealed to me because of its use of color. The animation was well done, but the selective use of color really set it apart for me. The color red is highlighted throughout the movie, calling attention to certain objects, such as the pom-pom Mary sends Max that he puts on his yarmulke. In the final scene, there is slightly more color used, as Mary herself is more flesh in color and her letters, taped up all over Max’s apartment in NYC, are in real parchment coloring. It is subtle but noticeable. Without re-watching to see exactly what was and was not in color throughout the movie, it seems to me like the color could be used to highlight the impact of their friendship on each others’ lives. But that’s a theory I haven’t delved much into.
There were some charming quotes throughout the film. Hoffman does the voice for Max and Toni Collette voices the older Mary, with a cameo from Eric Bana as Mary’s husband Damien. There is a certain immaturity in the way both main characters speak and see the world, but that also adds a degree of charm to the movie. One moment I enjoyed is when Max is writing about the words he has invented and sent in to be considered for addition into the dictionary:
I have also invented some new words. “Confuzzled”, which is being confused and puzzled at the same time, “snirt”, which is a cross between snow and dirt, and “smushables”, which are squashed groceries you find at the bottom of the bag. I have sent a letter to the Oxford Dictionary people asking them to include my words but I have not heard back.
My favorite quote from the film, however, comes toward the end and has to do with acceptance. Part of what friends are for is accepting you for who you are, despite your flaws – but you also have to do that for yourself. Mary and Max are both flawed people, but that is nothing against their character because everyone is flawed in some way. Life is about accepting your own flaws and learning to live with them.
Dr. Bernard Hazelhof said if I was on a desert island, then I would have to get used to my own company – just me and the coconuts. He said I would have to accept myself, my warts and all, and that we don’t get to choose our warts. They are part of us and we have to live with them. We can, however, choose our friends, and I am glad I have chosen you.
So while it could maybe be shorter, it is still a charming movie that definitely gives a touching message about life, friendship and accepting oneself.