In her weekly column, Instant Watching, Christie Dean talks about recently produced obscure and independent films that are made available through Netflix’s Instant Watch feature.

Mary and Max is a claymation, black comedy-drama about the 20 year penpal relationship between Mary Daisy Dinkle (Toni Collette) and Max Horovitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Mary is an eight year old Australian girl with an unfortunately positioned birthmark on her forehead, an alcoholic mother, a distant father, and no friends. Max is a forty year old New Yorker with Asperger’s syndrome who loves chocolate, regularly sees a psychologist, and doesn’t connect well with others. One day Mary finds a Manhattan phonebook and randomly picks out a name, which happens to be Max’s, and a strong friendship begins as the two unlikely people bond over candy, their favorite TV show, and their assorted questions about all confusing aspects of life.

This engaging, tragic, hilarious film had many themes but none permeated it so much as the universal need for community. Mary and Max follows the two through many stages and hardships in their lives (including but not limited to divorce, alcoholism, and manslaughter) yet throughout it all they remain each other’s best friend and learn how to love, advise, and forgive each other well. This, the quotable and witty lines, and some minor character subplots prevent the film from getting too depressing. Mary and Max’s letter exchange helps them to overcome their extreme feelings of loneliness and inadequacy, and their unique relationship gives them hope for a more purposeful life. Mary and Max is based on the director’s twenty year friendship with his own penpal.