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Film Review: Mary and Max (2009) – Toni Collette, Barry Humphries, Philip Seymour Hoffman

I’ve been really busy this week (again).  Firstly, due to being short staffed at work, I ended up back in my old post in the school’s first aid station for a few hours each day and I’m SO GLAD that I applied last November for the database manager job I currently do.  My life has changed significantly in the last year, now that I am doing a job that concentrates on something I really enjoy, and don’t have the demands of students on me all the time.  It is really draining trying to work when you are constantly being interrupted, sometimes by quite demanding situations.

I also went climbing during the week, off to another Governor-meet-parents thing on Thursday, and then on Friday night had a whale of a time meeting up with the youth workers I used to work with (before we all got made redundant in 2009).  Friday night’s 1am finish was probably a contributing factor to me sleeping in until noon both today and yesterday.

I haven’t had time to read anything this week, but I thought I would have time to squeeze in the 88 minute DVD that LoveFilm sent me, really a long time ago now, as recommended by Kate at lookingglassblog.

Mary and Max is the story of an 8 year old Australian girl and her penfriend, 44 year old New Yorker, Max.  They are both lonely for different reasons.  Mary’s mother is an alcoholic and her father is absent in spirit.  Max sees the world in a different way from most other people and is being treated by a psychiatrist regarding his troubles.

The film starts in a rather beautiful way and you are not sure where it is going to go because it seems rather shapeless.  You are introduced in a very unhurried way to these two characters, and this works because each scene is animated in detail, and the narrative is very deadpan and random but at the same time tells you a lot about the characters, takes you right into their strange worlds, while also being hilarious.  For example, Max describes the time he did jury service and just as it was getting interesting, with a case where a man murdered all his friends at his surprise party, Max is rejected from serving because someone finds out that he has spent time in a mental institution.

Likewise, Mary writes, “My mum says I am getting fat. She says I am growing up to be a heffer, which I think is a kind of cow.”

I laughed out loud at both these moments and Lovely Daughter #2 came across to see what was so funny and watched the rest of the film with me.

It’s clear that Max sees the world significantly differently from most people.  I did wonder how they film would handle the (over?) sensitivity that we have these days regarding adults and children sharing friendship.  And actually, the film didn’t shy away from this topic at all.  Max’s lack of understanding does lead to some laugh out loud moments of inappropriateness, but his good intentions are always so clear that it just makes you wish that we didn’t have that suspiciousness in our society that we have grown so used to.

It’s no surprise when Max diagnosed with Asperger’s half way through the film.  Max is adamant that he does not see himself as someone with a disability and that he does not want others to either.  He does not want to be cured (there is some vague talk in the film of a future cure one day coming into being), because being “Aspie” is part of who he is.  This made me think of several blogs I follow, and individuals I know, wondering how they would feel about a cure to change them.  I would guess that in most cases, a cure would not be welcome.

The rest of the film sees Mary and Max battling their demons and their pasts, the stories intersecting beautifully, and there are some genuine edge-of-seat moments in the film as they come close to despair.

I was hoping for an uplift after A Tale for the Time Being.  While Mary and Max was a tear jerker (at several points), I came away with a positive message: on facing your fears, and on letting others be who they want to be.

This was such a good film!  Thank you, Kate, for your recommendation.



    • I found it very strange at first because it was so different. But as I was saying to Lovely Daughter, sometimes it’s good to see something completely different. And at the end I was totally sucked into its world and its message. Also I liked that it was not too long but still powerful.

  1. Thanks for the review Denise. You’re so descriptive and always give a great perspective, you should start doing this for a living! I’ll be adding it to our LoveFilm list. Glad you were only back in your old job very temporary, sounds stressful. Here’s to a more relaxed week 🙂

    • Aw, thank you for saying that! I was so swept up in the emotion of the film that I was *glad* to have somewhere to write about it!

      • Hi Denise, based on your review I added this straight to our LoveFilm list. We watched it over the weekend and absolutely loved it! I thought your review was spot on – it’s such a well made film handling all sorts of controversial topics very eloquently. I hope you get snapped up and can start making some money out of your reviewing talents 🙂

      • I got the original tip from Kate – she’s got such great taste! I’m glad you enjoyed the film, I felt so happy to be able to share how it made me feel here.

  2. Now this sounds like a movie I’d like to see.

    I don’t view autism/asperger’s as a disability. To me, it’s just a different way of thinking. The difficulties they may face in our society are largely because the rest of us don’t understand how they think and how to deal with them so in many respects the problems they have are not their problems but ours.

  3. That was a very through review of the movie Denise, not my type of flick but it was a good review regardless. Indeed you have been very busy.

    • Thanks for reading!

      My friend gave me a present of a six month subscription to a book paper and that is great because I don’t have to buy the books featured for £26.95 or whatever, but still get to know what they are all about and what is in them. So I guess it is the same with my movie reviews.

  4. I will have to watch this film Denise, sounds just the sort of thing I (and Aspie daughter too) would like, thanks for the great review!

    I’ve never seen my daughter’s Aspieness as a disability, I love her just the way she is, I’ve always understood her and thought of her differences as just ‘her ways’. She, however, would have given anything at one time not to have it only because of her anxiety and how self-limiting it is. Now, however, she is able to be more at ease with the person that she is and it shows. I admire her greatly, she has many strengths that I don’t have.

    You have been very busy, and it is so good to know that you are enjoying your job too 🙂

    • My friend’s son too. He used to hate himself for being different. Even though he had loads of friends and everyone could see good things about the way he was – such as the sense of humour and the sense of logic. He did find not being able to express himself and the anger difficult to handle though,

      • Those two things – your friend’s son not being able to express himself and the anger sums up my daughter. You have great insight into Asperger’s Denise. I would actually say that she still gets frustrated about not being able to express herself when she is confused or angry. Then everything just escalates and she goes into shutdown mode so that she just stops talking properly until she comes back out of it. In this way I know she would give so much not to have Asperger’s.

        One thing I forgot to say just to add to my original comment, once, when we were at the Job Centre funnily enough, the advisor told her she was ‘special’ and my daughter came out fuming. She told me that she would cut her arms off rather than have Asperger’s and that the advisor didn’t have the first clue about what it was like to have Asperger’s. I remember being quite stunned when she said that.

      • I thought about your daughter and her difficulties as I was watching the film. I thought about my friend’s son too and in retrospect I don’t think that it’s that he wouldn’t want a cure if one existed, but he and his mother don’t like him being treated as if Asperger’s is a disorder. It’s just a different way of thinking.

      • Yes, I think that is it in a nutshell.
        Really looking forward to watching the film, I’m going to look for it on Lovefilm and I’ll let you know when we have watched it!
        Thanks again Denise for this geat review 🙂

  5. Yes, you write great reviews. I would be interested in seeing this film. I have a few friends with autistic children and it’s an area I am trying to learn more about/understand better. The story sounds like an endearing one.

    Glad that you have been busy in a good way!

    • It is very endearing. Unexpectedly so. Everything is unexpected about this film, but it is spot on.

      Thanks for your appreciation!

  6. I liked your review of the movie. I don’t think we can get LOVE/FILMS here. But I will ask my husband; he is what they call a “film buff.” And knower of all things British. He knew all about Channel 4. He is generally called Mr Information because he knows a lot about popular culture. And just stuff.

    I read some of the other blogs of yours I had missed for some crazy reason,( I am glad to have found you again!!!!) and your LD #1 is like mine. She knows her style and she is not a shopper. Your jury duty story made me laugh, too, as you might suspect. And your pumpkin soup looks wonderful. I love your descriptive writing! BTW, my husband refused to go out with this husband and friend of mine as a foursome, because my friend’s husband had written a dictionary. 🙂

  7. I admit I’ve not heard of this one. So, a big thanks to you for reviewing it here. I’m always on the lookout for hidden gems and pleasant surprises. Sound like this is one of those. Hope I can find it here though, in Alberta, Canada. BTW, thanks for your reply to my comment on Litlove’s blog post. 😉

    • Hi, Arti. Hidden gem really is the word. I’d never heard of it either and it’s just so quirky and original it’s, essential viewing really, showing what living life differently is all about.

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