Maven's Nest

Reel Life: Flick Pix

Written and Directed by Adam Elliot
Produced by Melanie Coombs
Australia. 92 min. Not Rated in the U.S.
With Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Humphries, Toni Collette, and Eric Bana

Seen at the 2010 New York Jewish Film Festival of the Film Society of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum

It may be surprising that a claymation film can be based on a real person, but Australian Adam Elliot's groundbreaking, quirky animated shorts for adults (available on YouTube) have all been inspired by people he knows, including his Oscar-winning Harvie Krumpet in 2003.

Mary and Max is his first feature and he expands his color scheme, characters, voice actors, and geography. (Barry Humphries is his new narrator.) He imagines New York City, a place he had never visited, in black and white, through two decades of correspondence with his real pen pal, here called Max Horowitz. His correspondent is an older man with Asperger's Syndrome, who was raised as an Orthodox Jew. The funny and poignant depiction of life, from childhood on, as experienced by "Aspies", and as voiced gruffly by Philip Seymour Hoffman with a Noo Yawk accent he hasn't exhibited elsewhere, is much more nuanced and palpable than any seen in live action films about this kind of autism (such as Adam).

Elliot is represented as a young girl named Mary Daisy Dinkle, and she is surrounded by a hilariously eccentric family and neighborhood of alcoholics, agoraphobes, hoarders, and other distinctive people and animals in shades of brown. (Eric Bana voicing her crush Damien is notably the blandest of them.) Over the years, as Mary grows up to be voiced by Toni Colette, she and Max share loneliness, souvenirs, food treats, and a cock-eyed optimism to survive the scary, confusing world around them on their own colorful terms.

Even with his small, painstakingly produced output, Elliot has helped inspire the current bumper crop in stop-action animation for grown-ups, including the Australian/Israeli $9.99. So it's surprising that in the U.S. this marvelous film was only available outside festivals, briefly, on cable's movies on demand.

January 15, 2010

Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Her reviews are counted in the Rotten Tomatoes TomatoMeter:
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Since August 2006, edited versions of many of my reviews of documentaries/indie/foreign films are at Film-Forward; since 2012, festival overviews at FilmFestivalTraveler; and, since 2016, coverage of women-made films at FF2 Media. Shorter versions of my older reviews are at IMDb's comments, where non-English-language films are listed by their native titles.

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