Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mary and Max

I think "Mary and Max" would have been better if it had been "Max" and excised the "Mary." As with "Julie and Julia," here one section is not quite as good as the other and ends up taking its toll on the entire film. Don't get me wrong, Mary's part is not awful, but it just doesn't deliver the same delights as Max's. Philip Seymour Hoffman voices him, in perhaps one of his best performances, and what will come to be known as his one of his most overlooked, since it's an animated film as opposed to "The Savages," "Synecdoche, New York," or his Oscar-winning portrayal of Truman Capote. Max's dialogue is a near-endless stream of the ridiculous. It may seem "quirky," but it works nonetheless. He's an orderly, chocolate-loving, lonely man who has a psychiatrist, is an atheist, and attends numerous Overeaters Anonymous meetings. He had a troubled childhood, and also a troubled time as a younger adult, taking many jobs and reading books that changed his idea about his faith. He's a New Yorker troubled by the squalor of the city and of its people. He talks about "humans" as if he is not one, and quotes his "favorite physicist" about the two things that are endless. This is as bizarre as it sounds, but then again, that's a good thing.

But this is not where the film starts. It begins first across the globe in Australia, where Mary is living a depressed life of "The Noblets" (a cartoon TV show that Max also finds solace within), condensed milk, and being bullied. This section I thought had weird, detached sexual connotations, with visual gags involving dogs and her father's odd job of attaching the strings to teabags ("he could get all of the teabags he wanted" was a particularly off-putting line). Well, she decides to send a letter to an American to see how babies are born there, since in Australia she is sure that they are wrenched out of beer glasses. Speaking of alcohol, Mary's mother Vera is consumed by alcoholism and makes great use of sherry. During a post office visit between the two of them, she finds Max in an American phonebook, and thus the link is forged. This is one that will span a great portion of their lives, and predictably drifts at times into sentimentality.

These letters do, however, inspire some great responses, and copious amounts of chocolate, in different forms. As time passes, things get more ridiculous, opportunities are wasted, and there are strains in the relationship. I will not reveal any more plot details, but I will say some of what happens is tremendously depressing, as Mary encounters a masochistic stem and takes on traits that run in the family. The ending itself impairs the film as it slams you into a brick wall, shortly after which the film takes flight. In this, and in some of the weightless plot details, the film loses its real ability to stay in your mind. With this film, you're eating more of a candy bar than a gourmet chocolate. But, of course, there is still value in that. To use another confectionary metaphor, "Mary and Max" is the bar that's below your vision at the candy selection where you checkout (I learned about this whole system by talking with someone who read Steve Almond's "Candyfreak"). If you miss it, it wouldn't be too much of a big deal, but if you happen upon it, you may like its interesting taste. B-


aspergiansarah said...

Okay... first of all, how long is this movie? Cause I saw "Harvey Krumpet," which claimed it was an hour but turned out to be 20 minutes.

As far as I'm concerned, 20 minutes is NOT long enough time to develop a character's life.

Second, does the film specify what Max's condition is? It says on Netflix he is an 'obese new yorker with Asperger's Syndrome," but you do not mention this.

You do mention this on "Punch-Drunk Love," which leaves Barry's problem unclear. You seem to be in the know about this sort of thing, maybe a diagnosee yourself (don't worry, I'm not asking you to answer that question.)

Still, looks like a good movie. Do you konw when (and if) it's coming to DVD?

Nick Duval said...

1) I believe the version I saw was 92 minutes long. It was a VOD thing. That should also be an answer to your question. If you have Comcast VOD, check it out. If you don't have that, I would say probably in the next six months or so, considering it will be at the American Film Market and has been at Sundance, Chicago, Edinburg, and Berlin.

2) Max indeed does have Asperger's Syndrome. Perhaps I should have mentioned it. I think it's more important for the viewer's enjoyment in "Punch-Drunk Love" to know that the film may be shot from the perspective of a person with Asperger's than here. That was only speculation on my part. To the best of my knowledge, I don't think I have this condition.

"Mary and Max" is funny, pretty good, if a little overly depressing, and you may like it.

--- Nick

aspergiansarah said...

Hmfh. I don't even have cable. I did get to see "Up" again on VOD (love that movie!) but that was at a hotel room.

92 minutes isn't a bad length. it must be hard to make a long movie manipulating all those claymation characters for the time frame.

Asperger's movies are springing up right and left nowadays. Most Aut/Asp movies aren't very good, with the exception of a few.

I guess for Barry Egan it was quite possible. Maybe he just had a stress disorder from his life with his sisters!