By Simon de Bruyn
Adam Elliot’s long-awaited debut feature Mary and Max has screened and the first reviews are in, with critics describing it as a high-end claymation drama with strong doses of humor and quirkiness.
Mary and Max, which uses the voices of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, Barry Humphries and Eric Bana to tell the story of a pen-pal relationship between a young girl in Australia and a fortysomething man in New York, opened the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in Utah on 15 January.
Elliot has worked tirelessly on the estimated $8m project with producer Melanie Coombs for the five years since the pair won an Oscar for the claymation short Harvie Krumpet. Prior to that Elliot won acclaim for his other claymation shorts Uncle, Cousin and Brother.
The Hollywood Reporter has called the film “a whimsical mediation on loneliness and friendship with strong doses of humor and quirkiness” while Comingsoon.net described it as “a joyfully entertaining experience from beginning to end”.
Jeffrey Wells, who runs respected US film blog Hollywood Elsewhere, and who had earlier expressed strong reservations about seeing the film, said Mary and Max “was a very high-end claymation drama in every respect — adult yet sweet, tender but not twee, beautifully written, honest about handicaps and melancholia but full of warmth and caring and a general mood of oddball quirk”.
Cinematical said that although the film is “a tad sappy and heavy-handed at times [it] fidgets and wiggles its way into our good spirits by the time it reaches its endearing conclusion, as we’re left to examine not just the relationships we have in our lives, but the ones we have with ourselves”.
Criticisms included the film’s bleak tone and run time, with Paste Magazine saying the film was: “occasionally witty and clever, but…might have been more enjoyable at 45 minutes instead of a long 97, thinning in spunk and ingenuity as it goes”.
The most criticism came from Variety: "the tale’s simple, heartfelt message about love, friendship and forgiveness is undermined by an increasingly repetitive structure…and a persistent mean-spiritedness of tone".
Icon plans to release Mary and Max in Australian cinemas on April 9. For more on the film check out: http://www.maryandmax.com