Unranked: Mary and Max

Leading questions about the many movies not in the top 250.

Mary and Max

What is it?

It's claymation, that's what! One of my favorite things ever since Gumby.

If I have a heart, is Gumby a pal for me?

He totally is!

Anyway, what's 'Mary and Max' about?

It's about a lonely little girl from Australia and a man from New York City with Asperger's syndrome that become unlikely pen pals. It claims it's 'based on a true story' at the beginning.

Does it have that song from those pentium commercials in it?

Indeed, the beginning credits and key moments of emotion are set to Penguin Cafe Orchestra's Perpetuum Mobile, which you will recognize as soon as the piano kicks in.

Is it a kids' movie?

Not at all- it wasn't rated by the MPAA for some reason, but I would guess at least PG, if not PG-13. There is some frank discussion of sexuality (which gives Max panic attacks), death, alcoholism, and one near-suicide.

Is it affecting?

It is, kinda. It makes a pretty broad point about the importance of human connection in a life filled with loneliness, and uses a hugely contrived ending to put an exclamation point on it.

But you can't blame it for that, right, because it's a true story?

Here's the thing- it's not. Not even in the slightest. The director, Adam Elliott, has said in interviews that he wishes they had gone with "Inspired by a true story," instead of 'based on,' because only the barest facts are true: as an Australian youth (17), he himself began a two-decades long pen pal correspondence with a Jewish man with Asperger's from NYC. That is it.

It bothered me, probably too much. It's one thing for something like Unstoppable to throw that line out there, because 'there was a runaway train that some people had to stop' is a pretty generic premise. But for a story that was seemingly intensely personal, it was a huge misdirect that probably should have been removed altogether.

But you enjoyed it, right?

I guess I did? I felt for them, I cared at the time. But now, especially now that I know it was it was 95% made up, it strikes me that it was just an unending parade of miserable things happening to miserable people, capped by a bittersweet ending. And that's one of my least favorite types of film. It also relies heavily on a narrator to tell us obvious things about how Mary and Max are affecting one another.

It's not holding up well, let's put it that way.

Should it be on the countdown?

It actually is, it just wasn't when I did the 200's before. But it wouldn't make my top 250, personally. I do admire the craftsmanship, though, and especially enjoyed the opening credits, which focused on the small details around Mary's neighborhood.

For the record, the fact that Fargo is mostly not true (but explicitly claims to be up front) was spoiled for me before I saw it, and it's great anyway. But I wonder now how I would have felt if I was duped.

2 Response to "Unranked: Mary and Max"

  1. Tom Clift says:

    It's a shame you felt the fact that it wasn't based on a true story affected your viewing so negatively, although I think I can understand where you're coming from. Personally, this was one of my favourite films of 2009. Can I ask, what did you think of the humour in the film? I know it was pretty twisted occasionally, but I thought the movie was hilarious, particularly in the first third. That was also why the narration didn't didn't bother me as much as it did you

    The first third made me chuckle, but it was still kind of dour. I think it's mostly that finding out the truth/fiction ratio after the fact made me take a microscope to every decision made in the film. And I felt retroactively manipulated.

    I should try and watch it again eventually to be less biased, probably, but who has time for that?

    Those letters on the ceiling at the end did get me, though, a little.

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