In what might be the most unexpected major studio release of the year, is also the last major studio release of 2015. Charlie Kaufman’s existential trip into the world of Stop Motion animation and the mind of mundanity, Anomalisa is unlike anything else I have seen in a while.
Kaufman, Oscar-winning screenwriter of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, had previously been in the director’s chair for Synecdoche New York, but in adapting his short play Anomalisa to the screen, he, with the help of co-director Duke Johnson decided a ‘toon might be the better approach. And as I say in my video review (click the link above to watch) they have succeeded in creating a dreamlike vision that will stay with you long after your first viewing. Odd, yes, but most things Kaufmanesque are.
Certainly the animated feature world is dominated by family fare but this is anything but that. In fact a certain sex scene here would almost assuredly be rated NC-17 were this not an animated movie. The basic story has a Los Angeles-based British family man named Michael Stone, the author of a self-help tome called “How May I Help You Help Them?”, who travels to one of those dull hotel banquet room conferences to speak to customer service professionals. Mundane doesn’t begin to describe this man’s existence, but he is thrown into a whirlwind upon meeting Lisa, a baked goods sales rep who has come to hear his spiel. One thing leads to another and eventually she makes her way to his Fregoli Hotel room for that aforementioned sex scene. It gets a lot weirder, but Kaufman is exploring something perhaps more universal here in letting us peek into a real turning point in the life of Michael Stone, voiced beautifully by David Thewlis. All the other characters, including co-star Tom Noonan, have voices that sound identically bland with the exception of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Lisa who is luminous. She received an Indie Spirit Supporting nomination for her voice-over work and it is well-deserved.
This is one of those movies you will have to bring your own baggage to, but it is well worth the visit. Paramount Pictures picked the movie up at the Toronto International Film Festival and plans a January wider release after an Oscar qualifying engagement at the end of the month. Anomalisa won a major prize at the Venice Film Festival and has been critically lauded ever since. You have to hope it doesn’t get lost. It certainly is a unique enterprise for Kaufman and the Stop Motion technique of deliberate hand crafted puppets is brilliantly rendered. Lines in the faces of the characters constantly move back and forth. This is usually something endemic to the process that is cleaned up in post, but Kaufman and Johnson wanted to keep them in the spirit of the raw nature of the movie itself. Anomalisa is a keeper.