Oscar, Mary and Max

Oscar, Mary and Max

Oh God, I hate that film. I can’t bear to watch it, Adam Elliot said, standing in the kitchen of his Prahran home and fiddling with the overly complex coffee machine his partner Dan Doherty usually operates.

Incredibly, the film Elliot’s talking about is Harvie Krumpet, the 2003 Oscar-winning short that launched his career as an international filmmaker.

I watched it again the other day, and all I could see were mistakes-¦ the animation is so bad, he continued, seemingly unmoved by this Star scribe’s protests that Harvie is a modern-day classic of animation.

Coffee machine conquered, we took to Elliot’s living room and parked on a musty old couch -” one he acknowledged his two pet pugs spend far too much time on, hence the faint smell of wet dog.

Krumpet quibbles are soon cast aside, as I was there to discuss more current topics: namely, the impending release of Elliot’s first full-length feature, Mary and Max. The film, detailing the long-distance penfriendship between an ostracised Melbourne schoolgirl (Mary) and a middle-aged New York man with Asperger’s (Max), recently opened the Sundance festival -” making it both the first Australian and the first animated film to do so.

Despite this double milestone, Elliot admitted Sundance wasn’t all he expected.

It was good for the film, and it was a huge honour. But opening night at Sundance doesn’t necessarily translate to box office success, and a lot of films get slammed on opening night. We had a lot of reviewers saying the film was too bleak. I don’t see it as bleak, I see it as a story of redemption, he said.

And there wasn’t much celebrity-spotting to do. The only celebrities I saw were Tom Arnold and Sting, who crashed our after-party.

I talked to him and he said he hadn’t actually seen the film because his plane was late, so I said -˜Well Sting, I’m going to have to ask you to leave’, he laughed.

The festival represented Elliot’s re-emergence into the media glare -” in the five years since his Oscar win, he’d all but dropped off the public radar. However, the studious animator never stopped working.

Mary and Max took five years from script to screen, but there was a perception that I’d sort of disappeared. That TV show Where Are They Now? even rang me up. I said, -˜I’m not coming on your show, I’m busy!’ I can only really make two films a decade, because they’re so complex.

Elliot readily admitted he’s worn down by the five years he spent on the film, describing the process as like making love and being stabbed to death at the same time.

Despite the higher budget his Oscar win afforded him, he said it was still a painstaking process.

It’s all about scale: Harvie was 23 minutes and this was 93 minutes. On all levels it was a really overambitious project. The hours I had to work -” one week I did 92 hours. You don’t see your family, your friends-¦ I’m lucky I still have my partner. Right now, I’m not sure I’ve got another film in me, he said.

I’d love to see the passion come back, because I love what I do. But for me to make a piece of art, I need five years, eight million dollars, 100 crew members-¦ I wish I was a cake decorator!

He should take comfort in the fact that Mary and Max was well worth the laborious effort. It’s an absolute triumph: hilarious, deeply affecting and one of the most uniquely Australian films since the mid-90s golden period of hits like The Castle and Muriel’s Wedding.

Surprisingly, it’s also inspired by true events.

Max is based on my real penfriend in New York, who I’ve been writing to for over 20 years. He inspired me to write the script. He’s got Asperger’s, he’s Jewish and he’s in Overeaters Anonymous, so I haven’t changed much about his life in the film, Elliot said.

In another mirror of Mary and Max’s onscreen friendship, Elliot and his American correspondent have never met.

I know he’s keen to see the film -” he wants to wait until it screens in the US. Philip Seymour Hoffman [who voices Max] lives just down the road from him in New York, which is bizarre. Philip’s said that he wants to take the three of us out for lunch if I make it over there. That’s going to be an odd experience, he chuckled.

While the character of Max remains relatively similar to his real-life counterpart, Elliot created the character of Mary as his penfriend. However, he admitted there’s more than a little of himself in her.

Mary is the gay character, even though she’s not actually gay. She’s me, she’s all gay people -” I mean, I called her Mary for a reason! It really is a very gay film-¦ it’s about people who are marginalised and different.

Elliot sees his artistic attraction to the marginalised as a direct result of his own sexuality.

I’ve realised that I’m actually an angry writer. It’s all about injustice. I don’t like seeing people persecuted or sidelined.

There’s a line in the film where Max says not having Asperger’s would be -˜like changing the colour of my eyes’, which is a common gay expression. My sexuality is so ingrained in me, it’s hardwired into me, he said.

With that, our time was almost over, but before I left, Elliot kindly let me hold his Oscar. Producing the golden artefact from its sturdy leather case, he handed it to me and before I knew it, I found myself thanking the Academy, God and my parents, all the while trying not to blubber Gwyneth Paltrow-style.

When Elliot himself accepted the award, he famously thanked his beautiful boyfriend. He and Doherty had only been dating for three months at the time -” how’s that for pressure?

When I got up to do my speech, I knew I had to thank him, but I didn’t know what word to use. I didn’t want to say -˜partner’ because that would be too general. I didn’t want to say -˜lover’ because that’s just so -” ugh. The only word I could think of was -˜boyfriend’, he said sheepishly.

I felt like I was 16 again!

info: Mary and Max is in cinemas from April 9.

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22 responses to “Oscar, Mary and Max”

  1. So here we are at the close of 2014, I’ve seen this film well over 50 times and I have yet to tire of it.

    Brilliant flick, fantastic story that is well told and moved wonderfully along with a fantastic sound track and a marvelous use of color. I’m not much for critics and I don’t have powers of observation that exceed average but the use of muted tones and red is nothing short of genius.

    My partner loves it as well but finds it a bit bleak,which I don’t get. I find it real, not bleak and in fact I find it somewhat uplifting. Happiness doesn’t require perfection, and Mary and Max epitomises that for me personally. Dealt a couple of garbage hands they didn’t fold and they left the table content with what they had. Whats bleak about that?

    Less Disney more Adam Elliot says this household!! (We love Disney too though…)

  2. I’ve seen this movie more than once it’s very sweet kinda sad at the end but when u realize he was looking up at the letters when he died you start smiling.

  3. I’ve actually seen lots of movies, but l love Mary and Max, it’s my favorite, this movie is simply a masterpiece, i wish i could see real Max Horowitz, and Mary Dinkle, never another like Mary and Max

  4. Love this movie. Just watched it and am still teary! Defintely one of my favourates and very touching.

  5. one of the best shows I HAVE EVER SEEN! having a daughter that is asbergers and not sure of her sexuality ties it in …. lol more to this show then meets the eye…loved it!

  6. This one made me cry. I don’t usually cry in movies Haha! I wished Max atleast lived to see Mary though. Even if it were for a few hours, maybe?
    Really moving. Beautiful. Even if I’m not a fan of animation.

  7. I have a slight form of AS, or I am a “half Aspie” and this film sort of helped me come to realize the kinds of traits I share with the character Max. Although I am not 44, or Jewish, or go to over eaters anonymous classes, I found that this movie can really give people with or without Aspergers syndrome, an insight to not only those who have AS, but an insight to ourselves as human beings. We are a strange creature, and we seem to, if not more then often, put useless priority’s and stereotypes as our navigational route in life. I thought this movie was very well done, and I think everyone, not just people who have Aspergers, BUT I MEAN EVERYONE SHOULD SEE THIS MOVIE.
    The Characters stand out, and in my opinion, can relate to anyone who sees it. It really makes you think about how stupid and senseless are priorities are, when really, all we need, is a friend to be there for us. Great film, two thumbs up, other then Nightmare Before Christmas, this claymation movie has really touched my heart. =D

  8. Such fine work. Many laughs, at least one good cry and the kind of powerful storytelling that makes you examine the world just a little more closely. Exceptional.

  9. I was just wondering if there was any symbolic reasoning for New York being in black and white and Australia being in color.

  10. I saw this movie for the first time this weekend and it has haunted me ever since. My niece has Aspergers and I think this helped me understand a bit more of what she goes through. It’s hard not to cry as I type this now. This is definetly going into my top ten movies I have ever seen. Thank you Mr. Elliot.

  11. Agreed, I have only cried that way in a handful of movies. I would recommend seeing this movie to anyone. Including children. Children don’t get upset by this kind of thing because they don’t have the ability to understand it. But they will enjoy it as well as Adults of all ages as well as I have. I have a brother with AS so I’m aware of how it plays out on someone. The film did an excellent job portraying what it is truly like living with it. It also did a wonderful job showing the worth of true friendship. Anyone that’s been alone knows what that’s like and will be able to relate to this. It is also now my favorite movie and I have shown it to my best friend and he enjoyed it as much as I did. Bravo(:

  12. I am going to have to completely agree with megan 100%. I am a huge fan of claymation. I was literally breaking down, i have only cried that hard when i saw my sister’s keeper.

  13. Mary and Max, in my eyes, is possibly the most beautiful movie i have ever seen. It has every element to it; i laughed, i cried, i was truely touched by the story line and the characters. I know this movie will forever be in my heart, as my favorite movie.

  14. This was a brilliant film that elicited every emotion imaginable with the exception or terror! It was as thought I was the child having a story read to me and the film itself was the picture book in motion. I was deeply moved by the story-line and when I watched it for a second time with my husband (at my recommendation), I saw that it was a true story. Knowing this made the story even that much more touching.
    This is a film that everyone should watch. The attention to detail was unbelievable. I have not yet seen a Claymation film that I did not like and beyond everything else that I have ever seen, this is beyond explaination! Must see!

  15. I saw this film last night. I am not normally a huge fan of this type of animation but I thought this particular film was excellent. It was really quick witted, really well scripted and excellently narrated!

    Having never heard of this film before seeing it I was interested to see who Max was and I thought, “who the hell came up with this and thought it would make for a good film?” But I was pleasantly surprised.

    Although I was aware of AS I did not really know much about the disease. I now feel much more enlightened about the subject, purely because of this film.

    It provoked many different emotions from me and I have to say that there were a few scenes in this film that made me very uncomfortable. For instance toward the end of the film where Mary is at the end of the road (without giving anything away!). I found that scene quite shocking. But I would say that I appreciate films must go one step further and be shocking these days, otherwise they could be considered too boring.

    Having seen some comments about this film, I am surprised to see that some people say that have taken their children to watch this?!! I saw this on Film4 last night at about 11:00pm and I would not recommend that a child watches this as I imagine parts would be extremely upsetting.

    One other point that I would like to make that I have not seen any comments about is the soundtrack. I thought the music chosen in the film was brilliant. The piano tune that is used frequently was a brilliant choice (not sure of the name of the song).

    To sum up – In my opinion this film is a triumph and I would recommend any ADULT to check it out!

  16. I loved the film… I don’t have AS… but can DEFINITELY understand what it feels like NOT to understand those around you (pretty much everyone)… we are all insane… (or different… call it what ever you want) life is easier when we understand it.

    Grand film… the characters where well thought out, the story line consistent and dense, and the animation ADORABLE.

    Congrats… two thumbs up on my part.

  17. I watched this movie and found it to be absolutely adorable. The personification of AS was astonishingly accurate. The depiction of a 40+ year old, overweight, Jewish AS patient trying to answer the theoretical questions of a non-related child (being a stranger makes understanding others more difficult) in a semi-child appropriate manner was equal parts amusing and heartbreaking. You can see a hint of the genuine frustration that AS patients live with everyday. It is as if other human beings are some strange sort of alien, who’s body language and customs are completely bizzare and un-relatable.

    It would have been easy to make this into a mere satire much akin to the Simpsons. However, I feel that he captured the essence of both true friendship and how strange “normal” people can truly be. And let’s face it, people are pretty damned weird.

  18. I thought this film was incredible. It kept my interest the entire time. And I disagree Belle and Catriona. I thought the way Aspergers was perfect. He did not portray Max as being retarded. After the showng of the movie, there was a panel discussion with various psychiatrists, psychologists, parents of those with Aspergers, and adults with aspergers. They all agreed that the movie was wondeful. There was no opposition from anyone on the panel toward the film. The movie was perfect and made for a wonderful night.

  19. I watched the film with a little boy that was hiding inside me that totally related to some of the scenes and the deep longing all people feel for a real frienship. I could comfort the boy inside with the knowledge that deep friendships come in time and can be the impetus for a real life. The film conveys that on so many levels. I think it is really a triumphant bit of work whether it applies to gay or straight people. I think it applies to any person who has ever been alone, knew there was someone out there and had the courage to find that special friend that cared. Bravo!!

  20. I agree with Belle as a person with AS it would have been good for there to be an explanation of it at the start of the film. I thought the portrayal of AS was good however but the film did cram a lot into it.

  21. I saw
    Mary and Max today april 9. It is a very clever witty film and a young person i went with who has Aspergers was very distressed at the end of the film, in tears, which is most unusual. I dont know whether this means
    Adam elliot has struck a nerve in this film with As people, or the end was sad for anyone, or the constant references to max as a “mental” fruitcake was too much to bear for someone with AS. Do they want to be seen by everyone as “mental”?
    Also, in the middle of the film an explantaion of aspergers was given, but if a viewer had never heard of it as part of the autsm spectrum, then they would be none the wiser because it could come across as a “made-up”, fictional disorder, not real, because the characters were clay.It would be good , either at the start or the end of the film,for an offical brief explanation of AS, that it is real and people do have it. I think the young girls sitting near me would have left the cinema not realising it was a real syndrome/disorder.
    also,a negative aspect of the film,,, i think adam elliot tried to cram in far too many stereotypes …is there anyone else he could have included?