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Mary and Max Review

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

Iffy for 13+

Animated indie explores unusual friendship, heavy themes.

What 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.

  • 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.

The good stuff
  • message true1

    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!

  • rolemodels true1

    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.

What to watch for
  • violence false3

    Violence: 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.

  • sex false3

    Sex: 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.

  • language false2

    Language: 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.

  • consumerism false1

    Consumerism: Mentions of Earl Grey tea and Baileys Irish Cream.

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false3

    Drinking, drugs and 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.