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Sundance 2009: “Mary and Max.”

Sundance 2009: “Mary and Max.” (photo)

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The opening night slot at Sundance is customarily considered one of doom, and in that tradition “Mary and Max” is a disappointment, though just a mild one. The film, animator Adam Elliot’s first feature, has many of the elements and motifs of his splendid, award-winning shorts — a distinctive portraiture-inspired look, heavy voiceover, characters with mental or physical disabilities, misspellings, insulting newspaper headlines, accident-prone pets — while demonstrating why, as it is, Elliot’s style is better kept to a briefer form.

“Mary and Max” flips between the lives of its title characters, a lonely seven-year-old Australia girl with a birthmark on her forehead and neglectful parents and an equally lonely 44-year-old obese New York man with Asperger’s. Mary picks Max’s name by chance out of the phonebook and writes to ask him questions about America, and despite the fact that she unknowingly pushes him into several anxiety attacks, the two establish a pen-pal friendship that lasts decades, over the deaths of family members and friends, stays in the mental ward, a marriage, a lottery win and the publication of a book. Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman voice the pair, with Barry Humphries intoning the narration.

Characters don’t talk much in Adam Elliot’s stop motion creations, not to each other. They instead often just look to the camera as the narrative happens to them, with seemingly no more say in the matter than anyone watching — they’re reenacting someone else’s memory of them. Like animated snapshots, scenes pass by, adding up to whole lives that neither equal easy anecdotes nor drift by without a point. Elliot has an eye for odd little dark or droll details that give his stories a gleam of melancholy genuineness. But in “Mary and Max,” those details stack up until his characters become grotesques: Mary’s father drowns while treasure hunting at the beach; Max accidentally kills a mime when his A/C unit falls out of the wall of his crumbling apartment; Mary’s husband runs off with a New Zealand sheep farmer. The story acquires a macabre undertone that’s not suited to its own rambling structure. Mary and Max begin as believable misfits with not-outlandish misfortunes in their lives, but soon start to seem like something out of Edward Gorey.

There are moments of loveliness — Australia is done in warm shades of brown, Mary’s favorite color, and New York in greyscale with splashes of red — and others of emotional wonder, from the watching of a treasured cartoon in the rain to an improvised gift of tears. But “Mary and Max” does feel like a short that continues on for an hour and a half with little forward motion, until you reach the somber but not unexpected ending and realize how far you’ve come.

“Mary and Max” currently has no U.S. distribution. See all of’s Sundance coverage here.

[Photo: “Mary and Max,” Icon Entertainment International, 2009]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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