Oct 22 2009

Go see “Mary and Max!” (a movie review)

by at 9:32 pm

Last Friday, Jackie and I went to see Mary and Max, an Australian claymation movie directed by Adam Elliot. Adam Elliot won an Oscar in 2003 for Harvie Krumpet (available free on YouTube). This was actually the first time we’ve been to the movies in Switzerland, so of course this blog post will be a commentary on the Swiss movie-going experience in addition to a review of the movie. I’d been working non-stop for a day and a half on a take home test, so we decided to celebrate. We made sure to check that the movie was being shown in version originale (i.e. not dubbed) and the trailer was fantastic, so off we went.

Buying our tickets and passing through the lobby made enough sense—overpriced candy and popcorn, weird decor—nothing surprising. The ads and previews before the movie weren’t a surprise either. One mystery was that there was a Credit Suisse ad dubbed into French, presumably from the original German ad. (Credit Suisse’s only regular banking market is in Switzerland—would it have really cost so much to have shot the ad in both French and German?) Another mystery was the humor we were evidently missing in a trailer for a French movie. Everyone around us was laughing wildly, while we were mostly confused. But once the movie started, we’d have our chance to laugh wildly at an English and Jewish joke or two. Of course, being the only ones laughing was a lot more noticeable than being the only ones not laughing.

Mary and Max tells the story of a pen pal relationship between Mary, an Australian girl growing up without friends in Melbourne, Australia and Max, a Jewish man with Asperger’s living in New York City. The relationship begins in the 1970s with a letter sent out of the blue by Mary to Max when Mary is 8 years old and Max is in his 40s. As the two exchange letters, they share the stories of their lives, equal parts heart-breaking and hilarious: Mary is teased at school because of a poo-colored birthmark on her forehead, while Max, once a Yeshiva-bochur, is a staunch atheist—but he still wears his yarmulke because it keeps his head warm.

An anxious Max, his yarmulke adorned by a pom-pon knit by Mary

The story follows Mary growing up, going to university, and getting married, while Max struggles on in various jobs, tries to stop overeating, and generally finds it impossible to relate to other people. I’m sure that there were many hilarious particulars of suburban life in Australia we missed, but as I alluded to earlier, Jackie and I were alone in erupting in laughter a few times, like when Max places his first letter to Mary in a mailbox and intones “Gey gezunterheyt” (go in good health, in Yiddish) or when he lists for Mary the foods he eats on each day of the week, mostly bought prepared from the deli.

Most compellingly, the story has a very intelligent treatment of Max’s Asperger’s in the context of questions about how people with disabilities relate to others and to society. While Max has carried around a book of expressions with him since he was a kid because he cannot read people’s faces, the prospect of ever being “cured” is something Max firmly rejects. And of course, Max’s problems in society have as much to do with society’s ill understanding of how to include him as they have to do with Max.

In sum: Philip Seymour Hoffman was fantastic and the story and claymation were really great. And now we’re looking forward to watching Harvie Krumpet when we find a spare 22 minutes:

Update: Harvie Krumpet was enjoyable enough, but Mary and Max was definitely better—more complex, insightful, and funnier.

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One Response to “Go see “Mary and Max!” (a movie review)”

  1. SwissWatching » Here from Expatica.ch?on 29 Oct 2009 at 6:25 pm

    […] Seth’s review of Mary and Max was featured on expatica.ch.  Yay, Seth!  Speaking of Mary and Max, the Boston Jewish Film […]

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