Academy Awards, Adaptation, Animation, Anomalisa, Being John Malkovich, Charlie Kaufman, Cinema, Comedy, David Thewlis, Drama, Duke Johnson, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Film, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kickstarter, Michael Stone, Movie Review, Puppetry, Stop-Motion, Synecdoche New York, Team America, The Fregoli Disorder, The Oscars, Tom Noonan
“Anomalisa” is a stop-motion comedy-drama from the mind of Charlie Kaufman (“Synecdoche, New York” & “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”). Kaufman co-directed the film alongside Duke Johnson, an American director who specialises in stop-motion. “Anomalisa” was initially funded through Kickstarter and was intended to be a short-film, because Kaufman wanted to preserve the nature of the play on which the movie is based, (a play of the same name which he wrote himself), however, after initial backing it became what it is today; a beautiful film with an Academy Award nomination to its name.
The film chronicles one self-absorbed man’s stay in a Cincinnati hotel. Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a self-help author who specialises in customer service, but whilst he is respected by many, he himself is incapable of love. He’s married with a child, but ultimately he is unhappy and doesn’t feel anything more for his family than he does for the rest of humanity.
The hotel he’s staying at is called the Fregoli, which is a reference to the Fregoli delusion – a disorder which causes the person effected to believe that different people are in fact a single person who changes appearance or is in disguise. This little Easter egg gives insight into the nature of the story and of Michael himself, as he sees everyone identically, each with the same face and voice (the voice of Tom Noonan). This problem leaves Michael cold and detached, until he hears an unfamiliar voice coming from the hallway outside of his temporary bedroom. He rushes to meet it, and finds Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who he believes to be an anomaly.
What surprised me about “Anomalisa” was that it was very funny, which might surprise you as well after reading my plot summary. Nothing about the trailer or the story suggests that it should be side-splitting, but there’s something incredibly endearing about how these puppets mimic human mannerisms.
Michael and Lisa are awkward and insecure, stuttering and stumbling through conversation like a pair of weird schoolkids, but you never feel as though you should look away. Usually when a film goes for the awkward angle it becomes embarrassing or cringe-worthy, but that’s simply not the case in “Anomalisa” – it feels real, as though you’re watching something private and intimate, but there’s no shame attached to watching it because it’s framed to make these moments seem natural. A sex scene orchestrated through puppetry should be uncomfortable to watch, (think “Team America”), but Kaufman and Johnson manage to make it feel completely ordinary.
Johnson wanted to create an experience whereby the audience weren’t conscious of the fact that they were watching animation, and it’s definitely the case that that level of realism was achieved from a technical standpoint. However, I have to say that it was pretty difficult to forget about the animation style when the comedy aspect of the film largely came from the novelty of the stop-motion, along with the way that the bluntness of Michael contrasted with the amiability of those around him.
The only aspect of the movie that I felt let “Anomalisa” down was the speech that Michael gave towards the end. Although this moment was funny, I found it a little disappointing given the quality of the movie before that point. Michael was clearly unstable and in the middle of a crisis of self, but his behaviour didn’t seem to indicate a full-on break down, at least not one that he wasn’t already having on a daily basis. The speech also wasn’t particularly poignant, which was a shame as there was the opportunity to have the film end on a memorable line, something which I felt was lacking throughout.
Nevertheless, “Anomalisa” is an intelligent, insightful, and honest film. It’s amazing that a movie which is so meticulously crafted can feel so natural, and that the characters feel completely and utterly human. It delves into the nature of love and who we really are, and although Michael may not be a blank-slate character who everyone can empathise with, I think that most people could identify with his cynicism to some degree.