Mary and Max, the opening night film of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, traces the 20 year friendship of two eccentric ugly ducklings who accidentally find each other through the mail and subsequently learn to love, feel, want, hurt, dream and accomplish through their letters. Although a tad sappy and heavy-handed at times, Mary and Max fidgets and wiggles its way into our good spirits by the time it reaches its endearing conclusion, as we're left to examine not just the relationships we have in our lives, but the ones we have with ourselves, too.
When we first meet Mary (voiced by Toni Collette) it's 1976 in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, and she's a slightly overweight dweeb-ish 8-year-old with a birthmark the color poo and a lonely life devoid of friends, but full of teasing from the bully at school, abandonment from her alcoholic mother and hobby-obsessed father, and complete isolation from the rest of the world. Mary spends her days eating chocolate and drinking sweet condensed milk, while watching her favorite cartoon show The Noblits -- for which she's created homemade dolls out of each Noblit character because her parents would never buy her such a thing. When she stumbles across a phone book for New York in the library, Mary decides to choose one random name and write this person a letter -- to find out, of course, whether babies, in America -- like in Australia -- are born on the bottom of beer mugs (a fact spoken to her by her mother while boozed up on the cooking Sherry).