Mary and Max

Animated indie explores unusual friendship, heavy themes.
  • Review Date: August 9, 2010
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 92 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The overwhelming positive message is that even two of the loneliest people on earth can find a true, lifelong friend. The kind of friendship that Mary and Max form is based on total honesty and trust and mutual admiration. But it's also a mixed message, because it's probably not advisable to allow elementary schoolers to correspond with adults they've never met!

Positive role models

Max and Mary remain devoted to each other's friendship, even after a couple of long breaks in their letters and one falling out. Their friendship might be considered strange, but it's quite loving and sweet. They help each other and are truly the other's best friend. On the flip side, Mary's mother is a terrible role model for a mother -- she drinks and steals -- and Mary's husband is unfaithful.


The movie includes several deaths, most of which are treated humorously (Mary's father is swept away while fishing; her mother confuses a bottle of sherry with a bottle of toxic formaldehyde; Max's A/C falls out the window and kills a mime, and his pet fish keep dying in extravagant ways), but a couple of the deaths are disturbing. Max's mother shoots herself (you don't see the act, but you hear the gunshot and see him as a grieving six-year-old). One of the main characters also dies, and it's a heartbreaking scene. Mary attempts to commit suicide, and Max has many anxiety attacks that land him in an institution where he's given shock therapy.


There are no overt depictions of sex, but there are many allusions to it. Dogs are shown "playing piggy backs"/ mating. Mary asks Max if he has ever done "sexing" and describes how a girl explained "making babies" to her as two naked people rubbing up against each other. Mary thinks babies are "found at the bottom of a beer bottle," as her grandfather told her. Max is attacked with kisses by an aggressive flirt. A couple is shown kissing passionately. Max says that he worked in a condom factory but has never used a condom (it's clear he's a virgin). Mary marries and pounces on her husband before the screen goes dark, during which a bed squeaks and her husband repeats "Oh, Mary!" In one shot, Max is briefly naked (he's narrating a dream). Mary's husband hides his homosexuality.


Max recalls being teased by a group of gentile boys who yell "Jew! Jew! Jewboy! Jewboy!" and beat him up; Mary is ridiculed relentlessly for having a scar on her forehead that looks like "poo." One bully at school grabs her lunch and urinates on it.


Mentions of Earl Grey tea and Baileys Irish Cream.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Mary's mother is an alcoholic who drinks herself into oblivion every day. She drinks sherry wine but tells Mary it's a special tea she's "testing." Mary's father drinks Baileys' Irish Cream every day, but he's not described as an alcoholic. Many, many people smoke cigarettes, and Max's hobby is to collect cigarette butts that litter the city. Eventually Mary herself becomes kind of boozy and also takes a handful of valium. In one scene, a '70s hippy is smoking a joint on a bench.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this stop-action animated drama is not for young children. Although the style of animation is popular in movies like Fanastic Mr. Fox and Coraline, this film-festival-hit indie isn't appropriate for single-digit-aged kiddos. There are the far too many grown-up themes, including sexuality, substance abuse, body image problems, severe depression, Asperger's diagnosis, and suicide. Many of the characters drink and smoke all the time, and the protagonist pen pals (who are eight and 44 when the movie begins) discuss everything from how babies are conceived to bullying to loneliness to atheism. Ultimately, this is a completely unsentimental but beautiful look at a highly unusual, inter-generational, long-distance friendship, but it's best for mature teens and parents who know that sometimes the unlikeliest people can become your best friends.

What's the story?

Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced first by young Bethany Whitmore and later by Toni Collette) is a chubby, friendless eight-year-old girl in Melbourne, Australia. She has eyes like muddy pellets and a scar on her forehead that, unlike Harry Potter's cool lightning bolt, looks like a splatter of poo. One day she looks up the New York White Pages in a library and decides to write a letter to a real American to ask him how babies are made. The recipient is Max Jerry Horoviitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a socially awkward, obese, 44-year-old Jewish man living in Manhattan. They begin a 20-year pen friendship during which they exchange a series of frank questions and revelations about everything from Max's atheism to Mary's feelings for her Greek neighbor Damien (Eric Bana). Although they never have a chance to meet in person, their letters form the basis of one of the truest friendships ever portrayed on screen.

Is it any good?


Director Adam Elliot won an Academy Award for his animated short Harvey Krumpet, about a man dealing with Tourette's Syndrome, so it's no surprise that MARY AND MAX are two lonely misfits yearning for friendship. They are not always likable, and they're definitely not always relatable (few people are as relentlessly teased throughout childhood or socially awkward as adults as these two), but audiences will grow to love them warts, scars, and all. It's their flaws and foibles (Mary flirts with her neighbor only to be told she has poop on her shoe; Max exercises self-loathing by stuffing himself with chocolate before heading to overeating anonymous group) that endear them to the viewer.

The letters sent back and forth are so beautifully simple and honest that it's no wonder why Max feels compelled to lovingly iron, laminate, and save each one. They ask each other anything and everything -- from the very first query about where children come from (she thinks it's from the bottom of a cola can or beer bottle, as her grandfather informed her; he was told rabbis, nuns, or "dirty prostitutes" laid eggs that hatched into babies) to whether he's ever been bullied or she has a pet kangaroo (yes and no). Collette and Hoffman are so evocative with their voices (he especially, with his Yiddish-spiked New York accent). As they narrate their long rambling letters to each other, we see their flashbacks and thoughts come to life, and it's funny and heartbreaking and real. We should all be so lucky to have even one friendship as true as Mary and Max's.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Mary and Max's long-distance friendship. In the movie, they are the other's best friend and influence the other profoundly, but how would such a relationship be considered in real life? Did Mary's mother have a compelling reason not to want her to correspond with Max?

  • How are the issues of substance abuse, depression, suicide, and Max's Asperger's diagnosis handled? Was it odd to see such a candid approach to such heavy themes in an animated movie?

  • Body image is a consistent issue in the movie. How do Mary and Max each come to terms with their bodies? How does plastic surgery "change" Mary? What about group therapy for Max's overeating?

  • Parents, this is a perfect opportunity to discuss friends you rarely see but who've made a big difference in your life. Also make sure your kids know that they can come to YOU with all the issues Mary struggled with first.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 25, 2009
DVD release date:June 15, 2010
Cast:Eric Bana, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette
Director:Adam Elliot
Studio:Sundance Selects
Run time:92 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

This review of Mary and Max was written by

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  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Kid, 9 years old July 1, 2011
age 10+


In this Indie comedy/drama it can blend Sophisticated art, deep emotions, comedy AND be heart warming and heart breaking at the same time! Even me the toughest nut was in tears near the end, the thing is it can be judged as just a iffy comedy if not watched until the end, SPOILER ALERT In the end scene where Mary remembers all her childish memories and letters my eyes became foggy END OF SPOILER, I reccomend Mary and Max to ANYONE! 5 Stars.
Adult Written bynduns September 18, 2011
age 14+

To Harrypotterluva

This is not a kid's movie. If you go into it expecting that, you clearly don't understand that animation is just a medium, not a deciding factor for ratings. Secondly, this movie is NOT that sexual. You exaggerate immensely proving that oversensitive kids shouldn't be writing reviews. Anyway, this is a brilliant film, very well-written with a very good story. Highly recommended.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 14 years old Written bycoolbluejay654 July 14, 2011
age 12+


sex & nudity:6/10.violence & gore:7/10.profanity:4/10.drugs & drinking & smoking:7/10.frightening/intense scenes:5/10..........................................TOTAL CONTENT:29/50 25-30 is going to be a film most likely not suitable for children..................suggested for 12+ with guardian
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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