Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, 2009)

Mary and Max

Claiming, somewhat implausibly, to be based on a true story and opening like a washed-out Aardman animation, part in sepia and brown and the rest in black and grey, this is an animation, but certainly not for children.

Telling the story of two lonely oddballs, Mary (voiced by Toni Collette), a plain, overweight and bullied young girl in a small-town in Australia and Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a middle-aged and obese Jewish atheist in New York, this delivers a litany of hardships and traumas in a wry, comic voiceover from Barry Humphries.

Max has mental health issues that see him unable to form any relationships except with his pets, and has an obsession with unhealthy foods; Mary is bullied, not least by her sherry-soaked shoplifting mother, Vera.

These two no-hopers form a pen-letter friendship across the continents that is heartbreakingly sweet. The mordant wit that informs both the animation and the voiceover make the desperate sadness in the story bearable, but it’s not for the easily upset, as this is about friendship in the teeth of adversity. The moments of triumph, soundtracked gloriously with Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s Perpetuum Mobile, are all the more enjoyable for having been fought for.

This is both the most miserable and the most genuinely moving animation I’ve seen since Grave of the Fireflies.

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