I still remember my reaction to Muriel’s Wedding, the 90s ocker flick that I acknowledged was hilarious with a vicious streak of tragedy that lingered long after the laughs had faded. Mary and Max, a claymation Australian film about two misfits, shares a similar comedy/tragedy mix, and also features the extremely talented Toni Collette.
By that introduction, I am trying to convey the shock with which I exited the film. It is good, if a bit long. It is recommendable. But it should come with a warning in big red letters: not for the depressed. The film starts off lightly enough, with Barry Humphries narrating a tale of a small girl in Australian suburbia, struggling with a strange family and horrible schoolmates, who searches for a pen pal. She finds one in the form of a New York bachelor, struggling with his own issues, including his atheism and his weight.
Their stories and thoughts are beautifully illustrated by the fantastic claymation, and the film is a delight to watch, if occasionally the style did remind me of a monochromatic episode of Bob the Builder. It toddles along in a great vein until, suddenly, it takes a turn into Paul Henry territory and the spectre of mental illness looms large. The subject is not handled awfully (there are laughs to be had, but they are not totally unsympathetic), but it brings the tone of the film down somewhat to a level that only plunges lower during the final, very dark reel.
I won’t go into the details – I will let those who watch it after reading this post discover how things end up so bleak by themselves. Much like Muriel’s Wedding, and Sunshine Cleaning for that matter, the almost relentless negativity near the end of the film is redeemed somewhat by a final scene or two that try to restore some balance, and at least end on an upbeat note. It succeeds somewhat, but (like Sunshine Cleaning) leaves it almost too late, and so I left the theatre with a bitter taste in my mouth for what was, from a more unfeeling perspective, a brilliant film.
All of which makes me sound like I am warning people away from Mary and Max. Which is not the case. Really, it is a quite a good film. I would just recommend that, when you go see it, you pack few positivity pills to take with you into the screening, to help you get through the darker moments that, unfortunately, pervade real life as well as this animated feature.
Verdict: Mary and Max is a great film about two lonely people finding commonalities despite their differences, speckled with moments of hilarity and strong streaks of sadness. Something to watch, definitely, but make sure to brace yourself for the troughs as well as the peaks. 3.5 chocolate hot dogs out of 5.