Mary and Max

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Mary and Max
Mary and max poster.jpg
Australian theatrical release poster
Directed by Adam Elliot
Produced by Melanie Coombs
Written by Adam Elliot
Starring Bethany Whitmore
Toni Collette
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Eric Bana
Barry Humphries
Narrated by Barry Humphries
Music by Dale Cornelius
Cinematography Gerald Thompson
Edited by Bill Murphy
Distributed by Icon Entertainment International
Release dates
Running time 90 minutes
Country Australia
Language English
Budget A$8,240,000[1]
Box office $1,725,381[2]

Mary and Max is a 2009 Australian clay-animated black comedy-drama film written and directed by Adam Elliot and produced by Melanie Coombs. The voice cast included Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, Eric Bana, Bethany Whitmore, with narration by Barry Humphries.

The film premiered on the opening night of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.[3] The film won the Annecy Cristal in June 2009 from the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, and Best Animated Feature Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in November 2009. The film was given a PG-13 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America.


It is 1976, 8-year-old Mary Daisy Dinkle (Bethany Whitmore) is a lonely little girl living in Mount Waverley, Australia. Her relatively poor family cannot afford to buy her toys or nice clothing and she is teased by children at her school due to an unfortunate birthmark on her forehead. Her father, Noel, works in a tea bag factory and is distant, and her alcoholic and kleptomaniac mother, Vera, provides no support. The closest thing she has to a friend is the man for whom Mary collects mail, Len Hislop, a World War II veteran who lost his legs as a prisoner of war and has developed agoraphobia.

One day, she decides to write a letter to someone living in New York City and ask them where babies come from in America. By pure chance, she chooses Max Jerry Horowitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman) from a telephone directory. Max is a morbidly obese 44-year-old Jew whose various mental problems (including anxiety attacks and over-eating) have left him unable to form close bonds with other people. Max decides to write back to Mary and the two become friends. Over time, Mary's increasingly sensitive questions about the adult world give Max progressively worse anxiety attacks and he is ultimately institutionalized. During his time there, Max is diagnosed with depression and Asperger syndrome. Now aware of why he has difficulty relating to other people, Max finds a new lease on life and resumes his correspondence with Mary.

The two remain friends for the next two decades, keeping one another updated on various events in their lives. In 1996, Mary (Toni Colette), now a grown-up woman and inspired by her friendship with Max, becomes a psychologist. Celebrating his retirement of his job from the tea bag factory, Noel goes metal detecting on a beach, but is swept away by a big tidal bore, supposedly killing him. Afterwards, Vera sinks into depression over the loss of her husband, in which she accidentally drinks a toxic substance, killing her.

Mary's childhood crush, a young Greek Australian man named Damien Popodopoulos (Eric Bana), who enjoys sewing feels sorry for the loss of Mary's mother and father and the two later on get married, despite Damien's uncomfortableness with Mary's sexual advances at first. Max wins the New York lottery, using his winnings to buy a (literal) lifetime supply of chocolate, completing his collection of figurines from "The Noblets", and then giving the rest away to his elderly neighbour Ivy, who uses most of it to pamper herself before being killed by a malfunctioning jet pack she bought with her lottery and leaving the remainder to a cat shelter, only to have the owner of the shelter take it all for himself.

After earning her degree, Mary writes a psychological book detailing her communication with Max, in an attempt to dissect Asperger syndrome. Max is infuriated, having told Mary that he has come to terms with his illness and sees it as an integral part of his personality, not something that needs to be diagnosed and cured. Max ends his communication with Mary, by breaking the "M" typebar from his typewriter and sending it to her. When Mary receives it, she is heartbroken and has the entire run of the book pulped, effectively ending her budding career. In her despair, Mary takes up her mother's affection for sherry. Chronically depressed and constantly drunk, one day Mary receives a note from Damien, informing her that he has left her: he has fallen in love with his own pen pal, Desmond, a sheep farmer in New Zealand. In the meantime, Max has decided to forgive Mary and has sent her a gift as a token of his continuing friendship. Mary is so unnerved by her depression and drunkenness, though, that she is unaware of the package that has been sitting on her doorstep for several days. Ultimately, Mary discovers some Valium that had belonged to her mother and unaware she is pregnant, decides to commit suicide.

Just as Mary is about to kill herself, her neighbour Len knocks on her door, having conquered his agoraphobia to alert her of the package on her porch. Opening it, Mary finds Max's reconciliation gift along with an accompanying letter detailing the reasons why he forgives her, how much their friendship means to him, and his hope that one day their lives will intersect and they will meet in person. It is enough to jar Mary from her depression and she decides to start her life over again.

One year later, Mary travels to America with her infant son to finally visit Max. Entering his apartment, Mary discovers the now elderly Max, sitting on his couch, gazing upward, having passed away peacefully earlier that morning. Seeing this, Mary returns the "M" typebar to Max's typewriter and sits down next to him with her son. Looking around the apartment, Mary discovers that Max has kept many of the mementos she sent and has organized the entire ceiling into a detailed scrapbook of his friendship with Mary, composed of all of her letters from over the years, which is what he was looking at when he died. Seeing how much Max valued their friendship and how happy it made him, Mary is moved to tears of joy as the film closes.



The film deals with themes including childhood neglect, friendship, the obscurity of life, teasing, loneliness, autism (Asperger syndrome in particular), obesity, suicide, depression, isolation, and anxiety.[5]


According to the opening credits, the film is based on a true story. In an interview given in April 2009, writer-director Elliot clarified that the character of Max was inspired by "a pen-friend in New York who I've been writing to for over twenty years."[6][7]

Principal photography lasted over 57 weeks, using 133 separate sets, 212 puppets, and 475 miniature props, "including a fully functioning Underwood typewriter which apparently took 9 weeks to design and build."[8]


The music in the film features Simon Jeffes and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra's "Perpetuum Mobile" (the opening theme) and "Prelude and Yodel", as well as "Russian Rag" by Elena Kats-Chernin. The closing-credits music is "A Swingin' Safari" by Bert Kaempfert and his Orchestra.

Other artists include Nana Mouskouri, Dale Cornelius, Leroy Anderson, Pink Martini, London Pops Orchestra, James Last and his Orchestra, The King's Consort and Choir, the Sydney Alpha Ensemble, and the ABC Radio Orchestra.[9]


Mary and Max received generally very positive reviews.[10][11][12] As of August 2014, 95% (57 of 60) of the critics at the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes rate Mary and Max fresh, with eleven of the fourteen "Top Critic" reviews agreeing.[13]

Matt Ravier, writing for In Film Australia,[8] said the "story is paper-thin and some stretches of it are simply too long, yet whenever the narrative thread threatens to tear the sheer authenticity and bold honesty of the characters save the day." The Los Angeles Times called it a "remarkable and poignant" film depicting a "film noir world of blacks, whites and grays for Max and a sepia suburbia for Mary."[14]

After the film was released on DVD in the United States, Slant said "Adam Elliot's dry wit is pervasive throughout Mary and Max and it's nice to see that this unique sense of humor extends to the extras. The writer-director gives a funny and informative audio commentary and a set of hilarious making-of episodes reflects the sardonic tone of the production. The big prize here, however, is the addition of Elliot's Oscar-winning short Harvie Krumpet. This Geoffrey Rush-narrated tale of the titular Tourette syndrome sufferer is a wonderful introduction both to Elliot's sensibilities and to Mary and Max's specific tone."[15]

Box office[edit]

Mary and Max grossed $1,444,617 at the Australian box office.[16]

The film received no general theatrical release in the United States, though it was showcased at several American film festivals,[17] and was briefly shown at one of the Laemmle Theatres in the Los Angeles area.[14] The film's U.S. distributor (IFC Films) made the film available through video on demand.[15]

The film was released in France by Gaumont[18] and in Germany by MFA[19] to significant critical and box office success.


It was awarded the Grand Prize for Best Animated Feature at the 2009 Ottawa International Animation Festival[20] and co-winner (with Coraline) of the "Cristal" for Best Feature at the 2009 Annecy International Animation Film Festival.[21][22] The film was also short-listed for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 82nd Academy Awards, but was ultimately not nominated. Mary and Max was commended in the Best Australian Film category in the Australian Film Critics Association awards for 2009. The film won the Asia Pacific Screen Award for the Best Animated Feature Film 2009.[23]

Related exhibition[edit]

An exhibit of artefacts and clips from the film were presented in France and Australia. In France the exhibition was hosted by Gaumont as part of the release.[18]

In Australia initially at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image for three months starting in March 2010.[24] and then touring around Australia throughout 2010/2011.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dent, Nick. "Mary and Max". Time Out Sidney. Retrieved 30 August 2010. 
  2. ^ Mary & Max, Box office mojo .
  3. ^ Jones, Michael (19 November 2008). "'Mary and Max' to open Sundance". Variety. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c d Thomas, Archie (1 October 2008). "Philip Seymour Hoffman joins 'Mary'". Variety. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  5. ^ Schembri, Jim (13 April 2009). "Mary and Max (review)". The Age. Retrieved 10 May 2010.  5/5 stars
  6. ^ Milfull, Tim (5 April 2009). "Cinema: An Interview with Adam Elliot". Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  7. ^ Milfull, Tim (6 April 2009). "Informer Cinema: Adam Elliot – Mary And Max Interview". Rave Magazine. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  8. ^ a b Ravier, Matt (12 February 2009). "Review: Mary and Max (2009)". In Film Australia. Retrieved 24 September 2010. 
  9. ^ "Dale Cornelius". Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  10. ^ Pomeranz, Margaret (8 April 2009). "Mary and Max". At the Movies (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 10 May 2010.  4/4 stars
  11. ^ "International Competition / Jury Statements". Stuttgart, Germany: International Trickfilm Festival. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  12. ^ Dunks, Glenn (7 April 2009). "Review: Mary & Max". Stale Popcorn. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  13. ^ "Mary and Max (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 20 August 2014. 
  14. ^ a b Thomas, Kevin (25 September 2009). "A love letter to pen pals' power". Capsule Movie Reviews. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 September 2010. 
  15. ^ a b "Mary and Max". 19 July 2010. Retrieved 24 September 2010. 3.5/5 stars
  16. ^ "Australian Films at the Australian Box Office", Film, Victoria .
  17. ^ Release dates for Mary and Max (2009), Internet Movie Database .
  18. ^ a b Mary & Max, FR: Gaumont .
  19. ^ Mary and Max, DE: MFA .
  20. ^ "2009 Award Winners". Ottawa International Animation Festival. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  21. ^ Moody, Annemarie (15 June 2009), Coraline, Mary & Max Win Annecy Cristal Award, Animation World Network .
  22. ^ Keslassy, Elsa (13 June 2009), 'Coraline', 'Max' share Annecy prize, Variety 
  23. ^ "Winners", The awards, Asia Pacific Screen Awards, 2009 .
  24. ^ "Mary and Max: The Exhibition". Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  25. ^ Nets Victoria, AU .

External links[edit]