Adapted from his own play, Anomalisa is another weird, hilarious and off-putting piece of comedy drama from Charlie Kaufman.
The central character is Michael Stone, a customer service guru who’s in Cincinnati for a day to deliver a speech. Michael’s clearly dissatisfied with his life, commuting like he’s sleepwalking, and he desperately wants to connect with someone other than the bland people around him. Whilst staying in a ritzy yet dull hotel, he meets someone who might just change his life.
Anomalisa was created with possibly the best stop motion animation I’ve ever seen. The character’s faces were created using 3D printers, and whilst their features are deliberately segmented, the film – incredibly – avoids the slightly disturbing appearance that I usually associate with stop motion attempts at realistic human characters. Part of the reason it worked for me is that their ‘skin’ has a uniform texture. Secondly, the filming technique involves a super-mobile camera, so that there are some wonderfully cinematic shots.
David Thewlis plays Michael, Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Lisa whilst Tom Noonan plays…everyone else. A lot of the film conjures up images of the ‘Malkovich Malkovich’ scene from Being John Malkovich, and I suppose it’s true that Kaufman isn’t really exploring new territory with Anomalisa. The fact that the men, women and children that Michael comes into contact with all sound the same means that his disconnection from the world is much more than simply metaphorical.
Michael’s not a particularly nice person. He’s unhappy in his marriage and publishing a best-seller apparently holds no meaning for him anymore. He does quite a few questionable things throughout the film, but I could never bring myself to hate him. I don’t want to sugar-coat it though: some viewers will dislike him, and not sympathising with a film’s main character is always problematic.
Anomalisa never gets that weird. I’ve generally found Kaufman’s films to be exercises in restraint. He doesn’t go for batshit insane all that often, instead writing about worlds that are only a step or two away from the reality with which we’re familiar. This may mean that Anomalisa doesn’t hit the spot for those craving something completely out there.
I thoroughly enjoyed this, though can’t imagine rushing out to watch it again. It’s at times hilarious, awkward and freaky, but consistently genuine. I’d love to see more animations using this same technique too…Rating:
Anomalisa opens in Australia on 4 February 2016.