DIRECTOR: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
RELEASE DATE: 12/30/2015 (Limited)
STARRING: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and
Anomalisa is right up there as one of my most anticipated films this year and it feels like it’s been a long time coming. Actually, it has been a long time coming, I just checked. I remember hearing about Charlie Kaufman working on this film years ago, turns out it was 2012. Through its inception as a stage play, then morphing into a stop-motion animated film with a Kickstarter campaign, and finally to me watching a prescreening yesterday, Anomalisa has had a long hard road to travel in order to make it to the big screen and it has been worth the wait.
As I sat in my chair last night and the end credits started to roll I got the feeling, based off the murmuring and snickering I heard, that a lot of the crowd in attendance weren’t into Anomalisa and I think that sums up Charlie Kaufman’s writing perfectly. It’s divisive and not for everyone. Since first laying my eyes upon films like Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, and Synecdoche, New York, I’ve been enamored with the work of Kaufman. His propensity to focus on existential and thought provoking material in an artistic and meaningful manner always wins me over. With his newest offering that streak continues in a hilarious and intriguing way.
Anomalisa opens to multiple sets of meaningless dialogue that’s stacked on top of one another, that keep building with intensity. Then it cuts to Michael Stone (David Thewlis) impassively staring outside his window during a flight into Cincinnati. Stone is the semi-recognizable author of “How May I Help You to Help Them?”, a self-help book for people working in the customer service industry and he’s in town for one day to hold a motivational seminar on his work. He then proceeds to check into the Fregoli hotel, a name which has significant meaning within the context of the film. Fregoli Delusion is a rare disorder in which a person believes that different people around him are in fact a single person. Up until this moment in the movie everyone Stone has run into: his seat mate, cab driver, and hotel concierge – have all sounded and looked the same (having been voiced by Tom Noonan).
When Michael Stone finally hears a voice that’s not Tom Noonan’s, it jars him out of his hotel room in order to find it and the voice belongs to Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a shy and insecure call center team lead who is in town with her friend for Michael’s speech. After a night of drinks, Stone invites Lisa back to his room for a night cap and that’s where things start to get interesting, and there may, or may not have been Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” involved.
Based off what I initially saw in the trailer for Anomalisa, I thought there wasn’t much there that really warranted the use of stop motion animation, in fact it seemed like it would have been more effective as a live-action film. However, I was stupid. After my experience watching the film, the animation elevates the idea behind the movie in a way I don’t think live-action could ever pull off. The puppets have a raw, almost unassembled look to them, with hinges and joints left unrendered. Stone’s paranoia that everyone is alike is brilliantly encapsulated in the generic face used ad nauseam on every puppet voiced by Noonan, with the only differentiating elements to tell each one apart being things like: hair, body type, gender, and clothing.
The theme of disconnection that Kaufman explores throughout Anomalisa resonates with the viewer on many levels. The most obvious being Stone’s inability to feel anything for the people surrounding him– to the point where they are all basically the same, even down to his wife and child. His world view is clouded by a darkness of uncertainty and confusion, all while managing to fall in love with Lisa, who seems to be his polar opposite. Her wish is to “walk in the sun” and that disposition seems so foreign when compared to the likes of our protagonist’s inner turmoil.
Anomalisa isn’t all gloom and doom, there are tons of hilarious moments that inject themselves throughout the course of the film. Peeping in on a puppet pleasing himself, a toy store that sells some questionable items, an average sized zoo, and a hotel manager’s office equipped with a golf cart will all be certain to give you some decent laughs. Kaufman is the king at making life seem pointless and banal, but doing it with a chuckle so it doesn’t seem as bad.