Anomalisa is the new film written by Charlie Kaufman (based on a staged radio play he wrote) and directed by both Kaufman and Duke Johnson, (of Morel Orel fame). It’s derfinitely unique, and maybe not for everyone. It is, however, for me. I think Anomalisa is quite a fascinating and wonderful film, and indeed, an anomaly in the film industry, which already scores points in my book.
Anomalisa, a stop-motion animated film, is voiced by only three people, despite it having more than only three characters. David Thewlis voices Michael Stone, a well-known successful customer service guru who is disenchanted with his life. Boredom, mid-life crisis, his perception that everyone is so mundane? Maybe one of those, or all of the above. Jennifer Jason Leigh voices Lisa Hesselman, a plain but sweet woman that becomes the focus of Michael’s attention. Tom Noonan voices, well, everyone else.
A disenchanted Stone arrives in Cinncinnati, Ohio to give a talk about customer service. He arrives at his hotel and in his room is overly pre-occupied with an old letter from a what is clearly an ex-girlfriend. He calls he awkwardly since she lives in Cinncinnati and they meet for a drink, but as they say, the best laid plans often go awry. This scene accentuates Michael’s state of being. He’s trying to find something to excite and interest him.
The reason Tom Noonan voices ALL of the other characters in Anomalisa is because Michael pretty much sees everyone as the same. Only his voice is unique in the world. But then, while in the hall of his hotel, he hears a woman whose voice in unlike any other to him. And that is Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
The animation is exquisite and unique. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like this style. There is such a sense of organic realism here despite the stop-motion feel and the fact that they left the cracks in the faces of the figures visible. But what really brings these characters to life are the actors. Their voice work here is so human, so nuanced, that you completely forget you are watching animation.
There are moments that border on Kaufman-esque surrealism in Anomalisa, such as a sequence where Michael gets a phone call from the hotel manager, but mostly this film opts to stay grounded in reality. Whether or not that is a good or bad thing may be up to the viewer. I think it may have been fun to push that surrealism further based on the medium, but I still really enjoyed this funny and emotional film.
Anomalisa gets a good four kittenhands from me. Definitely one of the strongest films of the year. Certainly worthy of its’ Best Animated Feature nomination for this years Oscars.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie goer, going to the movies.