Hidden Netflix Gems – Mary and Max

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

The first feature from Australian filmmaker Adam Elliot, the main creative force behind the Oscar-winning 2003 animated short Harvie Krumpet (which is also superb), Mary and Max tells the true story of young Mary Daisy Dinkle (Bethany Whitmore) a lonely eight-year-old Australian girl who lives with her sherry-swilling, kleptomaniac mother Vera (Renee Geyer) and her taxidermy enthusiast father, a character so sad and dull we never even hear his voice. One day, she decides to pick a name out of an American phone book and write to whomever she finds in this way, in order to ask burning questions about America, such as “Are babies found in soda cans?”

The person her letter eventually reaches is 44-year-old Max Horovitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a morbidly obese, atheistic man living in New York City who, despite his atheism, was raised Jewish and still wears his yarmulke every day, “to keep my brain warm.” Sharing a love of chocolate and a sweet innocence that is far more commonplace at Mary’s age than at Max’s, they begin a 20-year friendship composed entirely of written correspondence. As Mary grows into adulthood, at which point she is voiced by Toni Collette, and Max struggles with his love of “chocolate hot dogs” (chocolate bars housed in hot dog buns) and subsequent gradual weight gain, their friendship grows and develops into something larger than themselves.

In the wrong hands, this material could have become overly sentimental, and detractors might claim that it is too “quirky” (that is, if it had actually made it into theaters and been seen by the much wider audience it deserves), but Elliot’s gorgeous, painstaking stop-motion animation and the excellent vocal work by the two leads (particularly Hoffman, who has never been more convincing) make this a truly remarkable film unlike any other feature I have seen. As in Harvie Krumpet, Elliot brilliantly balances wonderful, whimsical humor with heartbreaking poignancy and creates characters that effortlessly feel more real and alive than at least 90 percent of those found in live-action films.

Throughout the film, as Mary falls in love with her neighbor, Damien (Eric Bana), and becomes a shining star of academia, and Max struggles with his severe social anxiety and learns that he has Asperger’s Syndrome, there are moments of laughter and tears. However, the film never resorts to cheap heartstring tugging; instead, it offers true insight and brilliant poetry, both visually and in the excellent writing. The third act contains each of these in quick succession, first in a gut-wrenching visual sequence involving Mary, and then in a wonderfully narrated letter she receives from Max. The final scene brings both elements together marvelously.

Mary and Max is a treasure that I am happy to have dug out of the ground of obscurity. I highly recommend you take a chance on it as soon as possible.

 

  

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I’ve got those midweek movie news blues

Leonardo DiCaprio* It’s not really new news and I even posted about it before, but Mike Fleming has returned to the possibility that Leonardo DiCaprio may eventually be undertaking the role of John D. MacDonald’s great gumshoe, Travis McGee. However, there’s more this time around. If DiCaprio strikes a lot of us as a counter-intuitive pick for the laid-back, heroic tough guy, the choice of possible director seems even stranger: Oliver Stone. Stone’s often hyperactive style simply strikes me as wrong, unless he can turn himself into Howard Hawks or Clint Eastwood or someone more in that vein.

Still, my discomfort is nothing compared to Drew McWeeney, who is obviously a huge, huge fan of the books and who read a script that he was none too fond of — though it’s been so long since I’ve read the books that I’m so sure why introducing McGee on a surfboard is all that terrible. However, I do remember McGee as being more a fishing-with-his-buddy-Meyer-while sipping-whiskey kind of a guy. By the way, if they don’t cast Paul Giamatti as Meyer, the world just doesn’t really make any sense.

* If some people are made nauseous by the camera work in the Bourne movies, how many more will be made ill if the approach is set in some guy’s bloodstream and in James Cameron-style immersive 3-D? It appears we may be finding out because director Paul Greengrass, whose high-budgetted “Green Zone” has been a commercial and critical disappointment, is “in talks” to be the director on the Cameron-produced 3-D remake of “Fantastic Voyage.” I’m thinking about buying shares in whoever manufactures Dramamine.

* Screenwriters, playwrights, aspiring TV scribes — are you ready for Script Frenzy? I just found out about it. Remember, there are only thirty days in April and the goal is 100 pages.

* Big news for this movie mad, West L.A. bred Bruin boy. Regency chain has purchased the endangered, historic twin single-screen movie theaters that anchor UCLA-adjacent Westwood Village, the appropriately named Fox Village and Bruin theaters. The chain recently let go of an important neighborhood theater a couple of miles east which was turned into a triplex back in the eighties or early nineties, the Fairfax, which anchors the traditionally Jewish neighborhood that is home to Canter’s Deli. Win a few, lose a few, I guess.

Bruin_Theatre,_Westwood,_Los_Angeles,_CA_,_at_night

http://www.gq.com/entertainment/celebrities/201001/william-shatner-captain-kirk-interview?printable=true

* GQ’s Andrew Corsello has a very cool piece up about William Shatner and his battles with irony. But if anyone out there has seen him in Roger Corman’s sole non-genre film, “The Intruder,” they know there was a time when he was a very good actor who could it keep it fairly simple, even playing a villainous antihero, back in 1962.

* I’m a little late on this, but Steven Spielberg absolutely does not, repeat, does not, have Asperger’s Syndrome. In other news, I can now announce that I am 100% free of ovarian cancer.

* Bryan Cranston, star of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and also the upcoming “John Carter of Mars” is a popular guy around these parts. He’s currently “eying” a part in “Larry Crowne,” the upcoming Tom Hanks starring/directed by dramedy co-starring Julia Roberts and written with Nia Vardalos of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” The character in question is  Roberts’ husband, whose a blogger who spends way too much time “looking at” porn. I wouldn’t know anything about that.

  

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