ANOMALISA film review
David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh lend voices in "Anomalisa"

ANOMALISA film review

Anomalisa  **1/2 out of 4 stars

starring David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan

written and directed by Charlie Kaufman

When it comes to screenwriters, Charlie Kaufman is a top five in my book. No one in the business puts as much an imaginative spin on characters in crisis than he does, whether it be Being John Malkovich, Adaptation (my favorite), or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But Kaufman had two equally-inventive directors (Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry) help bring those indie-classics to life. As director of his own work, Kaufman seems to struggle translating his mad-visions to the screen. His first time at bat, Synecdoche, New York, was audacious, but overwhelming. And Anomalisa, his latest turn as writer and co-director with Duke Johnson, simply underwhelms in telling the story Michael Stone (cleverly voiced by David Thewlis), a famed author of customer service books, yet severely lacks any emotional connection with others around him.

Even though the film honestly lacks much of a story, it remains some kind of visual anomaly, being told in gorgeous stop motion animation featuring puppets, utilizing over a thousand costumes and props to stellar effect for it’s entire 118,089 frames of film. From the first jaw-dropping scene of Michael as he flies in on a rainy Cincinnati at the tail end of a book tour, to the messy final act, the animated wizardry the team behind this film has created is awe-inspiring, and worthy of any technical awards coming it’s way. And you’ll laugh constantly, especially in a scene with a cab driver as Michael goes to his hotel (Try the Chili). But the script and story itself is really just Kaufman-business as usual. Full of existential dread and resentment toward his nagging wife and annoying young son back in Los Angles, Michael’s motives quickly become clear when he orders room service and calls up an old flame that lives near the hotel. Did I mention the film only consists of three voice actors? To show how mundane Michael’s life has gone, everyone around him is given the same male voice, hilariously delivered by Tom Noonan. You haven’t lived till you see Michael have a phone argument with his Noonan-voiced wife.

It’s after Michael royally screws up when having drinks with his ex that he meets Lisa (hence, Anomalisa), voiced with a welcome warmth by Jennifer Jason Leigh. At that, she becomes Michael’s new target for a way of escape from his life, at least for the night. Sound shady?  There are moments that it appears Michael might not be right in the head, and is really just concerned with his best interest. Chances are though, you won’t see these kinds of themes and emotions played out by puppets anywhere. Which brings me to the graphic sex scene between Michael and Lisa. Somehow, this one pro-longed sequence is the films most revealing and emotionally felt high point (Sorry, Team America) followed by an even more revealing breakfast scene between them the next morning, Lisa trying to carry out a conversation, as Michael begins to build annoyance toward her.

In the end, when Michael returns to his regular life at home, we are left with many questions still about him, and what the film is really trying to say. I imagine that most of the hype around this film is the technical achievements themselves, which will surely drive their way into the Oscars heart. As animation goes, there’s simply nothing like it. But Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman’s first film in six years, somehow still leaves you thinking – there’s something’s missing.

 

 

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