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Your Friend In Australia, Mary Daisy Dinkle

November 25th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Logging in to Netflix Instant for a movie to watch is like being hungry and shown to a food replicator. It doesn’t solve my problem — it introduces one thousand new ones. Luckily, I can see which genres are rated higher in nutritional content, in this case, 4 or 4 ½ star ratings out of 5 stars. “Documentary” had a lot of those. So did “Anime & Animation”. In the month of November, I take another trip around the globe to sample recent animated feature films. Next stop: Melbourne, Australia.

Mary and Max (2009)
Directed by Adam Elliot
Written by Adam Elliot
Produced by Melanie Coombs
92 minutes

With its whimsical design and a sonorous screenplay, Mary and Max soars like a Dr. Seuss fable made for grownups. After winning an Academy Award for Best Animated Short with Harvie Krumpet in 2004, Adam Elliot made the rounds at Disney, Pixar and Fox with pitches that fell on deaf ears. Returning to Australia, he began rereading letters by a New York pen pal he’d been corresponding with since the age of 17. Elliot felt that his long distance friend of 20 years — Jewish, atheist, a sufferer of Aspberger’s Syndrome — had all the makings of a character for his next film. Elliot spent six months storyboarding Mary and Max and another year and a half writing a script while producer Melanie Coombs raised financing. Screen Australia, Adirondack Pictures (a New York based film finance company) and Film Victoria ended up bankrolling Elliot’s first feature film at roughly $8 million AUS.

Elliot served as his own art director and designed all the characters for what took 50 crew members 57 weeks to shoot inside a Melbourne warehouse. Mary and Max was screened for the first time when it was selected to open the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, a first for a claymation feature. Elliot’s characteristic clay figures border on the grotesque, but the strength of his writing suggests an award winning graphic novel more than a movie script. Mary and Max is the anti-Shrek, brandishing abundant wit and imagination to do more than entertain kids, exploring characters who struggle to get out the door each morning. The result pushes the boundaries of animation. Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna) provides the Seussian narration, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s vocal transformation as Max is superlative and even the hilarious product labels in the picture are worth a rental.

In the Mount Waverly suburb of Melbourne in 1976, a Narrator (Barry Humphries) begins “Mary Dinkle’s eyes were the color of muddy puddles. Her birthmark, the color of poo.” A painfully awkward child, 8-year-old Mary Daisy Dinkle (Bethany Whitmore) counts a pet rooster named Ethel as her only friend. Her favorite activities include drinking condensed milk and watching a cartoon called The Noblets, diminutive creatures that appeal to Mary because they never lack friends. Her father Noel works in a factory attaching strings to tea bags. Her mother Vera Lorraine Dinkle consumes liberal amounts of the sherry she uses in her recipes. Meanwhile, in New York, 44-year-old Max Jerry Horovitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman) also watches The Noblets. A chronic overeater who worships chocolate, Max has trouble sleeping and keeping pet goldfish alive.

Mary chooses Max’s name at random from a New York City phone book and writes him, including a Cherry Rite chocolate bar. Max is “confuzzled” by human beings and reacts to Mary’s letter by having an anxiety attack. Calming down, he answers Mary’s questions — like where babies come from in America — with candor. He also details his abhorrence of crowds, bright lights, sudden noises and strong smells, admitting that New York has all of these. Basking in Max’s words, Mary adopts a pen pal. She sends him chocolate. He advises her how to handle being teased at school. Max’s tension is diagnosed as Aspberger’s Syndrome, which adult Mary (Toni Collette) hopes to eradicate by studying disorders of the mind. She falls in love with her neighbor Damien (Eric Bana) and marries, but struggles with self-worth while a continent away Max continues to fight his inner demons.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 4,594 users: 89% for Mary and Max

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

What do you say?

Tags: Animation · Bathtub scene · Black comedy · Coming of age · Dreams and visions · Drunk scene · Midlife crisis · Mother/daughter relationship · Psychoanalysis · Road trip

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Andrew James // Nov 28, 2010 at 11:43 am

    One of the most pleasant surprises for films I saw this year. Never even heard of it but its bizarre yet heartfelt and funny and heavy-handed (in a good way!) nature was pure bliss. Why this never saw a wide release is beyond me.

    The set design alone is amazing!

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Nov 28, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Andrew: Thanks so much for visiting and for logging a comment. Like you, I was confuzzled why Mary and Max did not get a theatrical release in the U.S. Then my cynicism kicked in and I realized it’s too mature for the kiddies and too animated to appeal to adults, not without significant advertising dollars from a distributor. It’s a sad state of affairs when quality films with internationally renowned talent essentially go straight to video.

  • 3 Steffy // Sep 24, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Hello! I too decide to watch movies, log into netflix, then find myself drowning in possibilities. I settled on Mary and Max simply because I hadn’t seen a claymation in a while, it looked interesting, but I had no idea what to expect. This movie brought me to tears. Twice. I became an emotional roller coaster flashing from humor, empathy, sorrow, and general intrigue. What’s even more upsetting is that this film is so human and real, while nobody has heard of it.

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