Anomalisa

 photo anomalisa_ver2_zpses0g7amc.jpg photo starrating-3stars.jpgAnomalisa is unlike any animated movie I’ve ever seen. Past the muddled din of inane chatter, the picture opens to a cloud bank. A plane is flying through the sky. Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is traveling to Cincinnati. A successful writer, he’s going there to give a motivational speech on customer service. It’s not immediately apparent at first but something is amiss. Right from the get-go we’re confronted with an angry letter from what appears to be an ex-girlfriend. As he reads the note we hear the words in voiceover from a male speaker (Tom Noonan). It’s an bitter missive full of expletives. The F-word repeatedly used over and over. Once on land, he picks up his iPod and plays the “Flower Duet” from the opera Lakmé. Observant viewers will notice the portable player says sung by Dame Joan Sutherland, but it’s clearly not her. That man’s voice again, overdubbed several times, intones the melody. It doesn’t end there. Every articulation is an exact duplicate of the next. The passenger on the plane, his cab driver, the desk clerk at the hotel, the waitress in the lounge. After awhile we figure out it’s not just auditory. Although people appear as male and female individuals of various shapes and sizes, they all have identical faces too. Every last one.

Tom is not well – mentally, that is. By the time he calls his wife, we realize he’s a supremely unhappy man. She wants to put their son on the phone and he greets the prospect like he’s about to undergo a root canal. Life around him is ugly. He looks out the window and spies a man in the building across the way at a computer touching himself. Then he walks past a couple locked in a heated argument in the hallway. More F-words echo down the corridor behind him. All of this informs the misanthropic outlook of his own reality. Then while staring at his own visage in the bathroom mirror, he suddenly hears a different voice (Jennifer Jason Leigh) coming though the walls of his hotel room.

The writing is exceptionally smart. I’d expect nothing less from the writer/director of Synecdoche, New York who drew thematic parallels between a figure of speech and the city of Schenectady. Our protagonist is utterly lonely. He talks with a world weariness that is more palpable than the emotion I’ve felt from some live actors. Michael is the author of “How May I Help You Help Them?” and he’s oh-so-much smarter than the philistines around him. Little jokes abound. When he whistles part of the opera Lakmé, the taxi driver “educates” him that it’s the British Airways ad. He checks into the Hotel Fregoli – that’s Fregoli as in the delusional belief that everyone is somehow the same person. He turns on the TV in his hotel room and catches a glimpse of the 1936 classic My Man Godfrey. His date sings “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”, first in English, then an Italian version by Sarah Brightman. There’s no such thing….right?

Michael Stone is a miserable person. He’s emotionally disabled from connecting with another human being. That is until he meets Lisa, a woman who may or may not be the love of his life. She is an exception – an anomaly, if you will. She looks and sounds different. However she’s downright clumsy, tripping and literally falling flat on her face at one point. She’s also a bit of a rube. Upon entering his hotel room, she marvels at the way he has prepared his sheets and slippers for bed, only to learn of “turndown service” for the first time. Then she recites the lyrics of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”, like it’s her highest aspiration. “I wanna be the one to walk in the sun,” she coos. It’s never quite evident whether her ignorance is supposed to be legitimately charming or if Michael has achieved some level of humanity by being able to look past her provincial charm and see the real beauty within. Regardless he falls in love with her. Then they have sex in an unforgettable scene I cannot even begin to describe. The less said, the better.

On one level it’s impossible not to admire the remarkable craft that went into making this production. The detailed sets create an environment that feels lived in and substantive. Charlie Kaufman has created an extraordinarily realistic setting. The characters inhabit this environment in such a human way that it’s easy to forget we’re watching animation.  His existential ennui is handled in a pretty adult way, but Anomalisa is about routine. Tom has an abnormally misanthropic worldview. He’s bored with life and the public at large. Everyone has the same face. Everyone has the same voice. Their upbeat monotone is pleasant but insincere. Michael doesn’t connect with any of these drones, except one.  Even the object of his affection is intentionally imbued with a two dimensional personality.  The mundanity of his existence is manifested in the banality of the narrative. The abrupt non-ending leaves an unsatisfying finish. An unresolved narrative that is all foreplay, no climax. A spiritual malaise hangs heavy over the film. Michael’s total apathy becomes our boredom too and the experience is disheartening.

12-21-15

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20 Responses to “Anomalisa”

  1. A Tale of Two Dans Says:

    Great review… where did you get to see this?

  2. I’m really looking forward to this, Mark. I love Kaufman’s imagination. Sorry to hear it didn’t quite work out for you, though. Fine review, man!

  3. abbiosbiston Says:

    This sounds utterly bizarre…

  4. smilingldsgirl Says:

    Reblogged this on Reviewing All 54 Disney Animated Films And More! and commented:
    If any of you are curious here is an extremely well written review of the adult stop motion animated film Anomalisa. With the hard-core adult content I don’t think I will see this in theater. Perhaps on dvd when I can fast forward sections. Either way it doesn’t come to my theater until January 22nd. I will keep you posted if my decision changes but in the meantime enjoy this review!

  5. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I just wish it was a little less R rated like on a Persepolis or even The Congress which was strong but I heard this would be NC17 if it was live action. I may get it when it comes to dvd and I can fast forward a few parts because I really am curious. We will see.

    • I decided not to dwell on the sex scene because the movie isn’t about that. However, with that said, the fact that it’s done with puppets heightens the act in a way that I have never seen in a mainstream film. Team America: World Police is more explicit, but that was done for comic effect so it just seems silly. This scene is extremely intimate.

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        Oh for sure. I loved your review. I just wish it was one I felt comfortable seeing- dial it back just a hair. But perhaps as you say that’s what makes it stand out. I’m tempted because it sounds like amazing artistry but I dont know if I can do it. Sigh

  6. Interesting review. I respect Kaufman’s complexity and originality, but for me he never actually delivers that emotional “X” component I seek in films.

    • For me, there is a coldness that makes his films hard to embrace. Yet his work is too audacious to simply dismiss.

      If Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind didn’t deliver that emotional “X” component, I doubt Anomalisa will. This is even more negatively affected by an antisocial quality.

  7. Animation great, movie… Not so great. Take away the animation, this would have been boring. 2 stars

    • Anomalisa actually started out as a ‘sound play,’ part of Carter Burwell’s “Theater of the New Ear” project. The film’s cast played the same roles in the sound play.

  8. Sounds like a miserable tale about a miserable, arrogant person. I have a hard time with movies like that about such unlikable protagonists. And I love how you shy away from talking much about the sex scene, yet wrap up with comparison to foreplay and climaxes. Brilliant. Haha.

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