Today: April 14, 2024

Anomalisa

For many Anomalisa director Charlie Kaufman is a Chinese puzzle box of a filmmaker. One who, once you have managed to unlock, is full of intricate portraits told in abstract yet familiar ways. But if you’re unable to unlock, and it is a question of taste rather than anything else, he can seem surreal to the point of annoyance and self indulgent. There is a degree of irony then that Anomalisa, which is quintessentially Kaufman strange in so many ways, is also his most accessible work to date.

The story follows Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) as he travels to Cincinnati to give a talk about his customer service book. Once at the hotel in which he is staying we learn that Michael is having a midlife crisis. To begin with his has a distant conversation with his wife and son back home. Then he picks up the phone and meets a former flame who he abandoned years before. And then, as his night looks to be winding down, he meets Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) a fan of his book who has come to see his speech. The two soon embark on a whirlwind romance in which Michael’s insecurities and ego begin to take centre stage.
In many ways the plot feels unlike Kaufman. There is no memory-wiping device, no tiny portal into John Malkovich’s mind, no giant art installation being built in New York. It’s about a guy trying to figure things out while hating on much of the world around him. So what’s the catch? The catch, or rather quirk is the better way of putting it, is that the entire film is stop-motion. Kaufman using little figurines to tell this character driven drama. And the results are hugely impactful.

Because in presenting us with artificial people you are able to really focus on the psychology at hand. You’re not being dazzled by some Oscar baiting performance, although the vocal talents are all on wonderful form, but instead focusing on the characters and their world. It’s almost as if someone has given Kaufman a set of aging Barbie and Ken dolls and told him to weave their story years down the line. He even manages to get a touching, if erring on the side of creepy, sex scene in there.

In any other hands Anomalisa would be a run of the mill dramatic character study. But witnessing Kaufman act out his own thoughts on the human condition in doll form often lends the ideas and themes much more gravity. These characters emote just as much as any human counterpart does. For some it will feel a little odd at first but Kaufman lets you settle in nicely. We start on a plane, the captain telling us about the descent, then we go on a typically frustrating cab ride followed by the false niceties of hotel staff. In other words the fake, outward ways people adjust to the world around them are perfectly rendered in these life-like but always obviously prosthetic humans.

A wonderfully crafted and beautifully executed slice of mid-life crisis, Anomalisa is animation for adults and touches on things most live-action films can only dream of.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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