Sundance Festival 2: Mary and Max

One of the surprises of this year’s festival is that the opening night film is a stop-motion animation about the penpal relationship between a lonely Australian girl and a profoundly overweight man with Asperger’s Syndrome living in New York. If ‘Mary and Max’ had been a live action drama starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette, featuring elegant images of the Manhattan skyline looking like you’ve never seen it before, intercut with a knowing reflection on human isolation and the things that can heal it, this would appear to be the perfect choice for the world’s best known independent film festival. The fact that it’s made of plasticine instead of live action makes it so much more interesting than so many other independent dramas; it was good to see it as the opening night film.

‘Mary and Max’ is sensitive to Asperger’s syndrome and other special needs without being cloying; it’s honest about depression; it’s extremely funny in places without falling into the slapstick trap; the narration from Barry Humphries is perfectly balanced between sweet and harsh (and Hoffman/Collette both articulate what these characters might actually be like the real world); and, most of all, the animation - which took 57 weeks of days that each produced no more than a few seconds screen time is magnificent. Tonally think ‘Wallace and Gromit’ meets ‘Rain Man’ - with the emphasis on the rain. Director Adam Elliott has made an exhilarating film that genuinely deserves a huge audience when it’s released.