I’ll be honest, as a lover of animation I can’t help but find myself adoring Claymation. Whilst the use of stop-motion animation and often bizarre designs can be quite unnerving to some folks, I find a brilliant charm in it. If there was one film though that works not only as Claymation but is also a fantastic film in itself that is far ahead of its time, it would be the 2009 Australian picture Mary and Max.
The film stars Toni Collette and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the titular characters. Mary, a young girl living in Australia with her pet rooster, overworked father and alcoholic mother, finds curiosity in a question her mother will not answer. As a result, she decides to write to a random individual in the phonebook who turns to be Max, an overweight man in his forties living in a Manhattan flat with Asperger’s syndrome and his pets. From here on out the film looks into their relationship as pen pals over the course of several years in a story tackling bullying, addiction, mental health, and friendship.
What strikes me as excellent about the film is just how well the animation works into the story. Where one would perhaps have filmed this with live actors and actresses, writer and director Adam Elliot proves that Claymation can perfectly work in depicting the stories written in the letters delivered by the two main characters and their lives. Colour in particular is very noticeable with both settings of Australia and the United States being heavily distinguishable with changes from brown to black and white. The endearing designs of the characters and the lives surrounding them also bring life and fun into their letter fuelled narratives.
Of-course I can’t ignore just how tastefully and powerfully the film depicts subjects that can easily be tackled problematically. Discussion points such as alcoholism, depression, and even suicide are displayed, yet they are depicted in such a human way that allows for audiences to sympathise and possibly even relate to the struggles of the film’s characters. Without a doubt the film gets serious and even bleak in areas, yet the way in which these scenes are balanced with heart-warming comedy brings an experience that is truly feel good and stays respectful to very real issues.
If there was one thing that was most successfully achieved, it would have to be the depiction of Max as a man living with Asperger’s syndrome, an ‘Aspie’ as he calls it. The very way in which he describes what defines him as an Aspie and how he responds to his diagnosis is downright fantastic, not to mention quite relatable. As someone who has also been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome after childhood, I truly understand exactly what Max means when he states his views on the subject.
All in all, it is a great shame that this film is not as well known as it should be. It’s a bittersweet masterpiece that deserves a watch and a round of applause for how well it approaches its subject matter.
Image: Georges Biard via Wikipedia