Charlie Kaufman’s quaint and surreal stop-motion animation won’t blow you away, but its mature themes of isolation and companionship largely resonate.
Dir. Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson
2015 | UK/USA | Animation/Drama | 90 mins | 2.35:1 | English, Italian & Japanese
R21 (passed clean) for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language.
Cast: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
Plot: A man crippled by the mundanity of his life experiences something out of the ordinary.
Awards: Won Grand Special Jury Prize (Venice); Nom. for Best Animated Feature (Oscars)
International Sales: HanWay Films
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature (not for kids)
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: The Projector
First Published: 23 Feb 2016
One of the most eccentric screenwriters to emerge since the turn of the century, Charlie Kaufman has delighted, inspired and befuddled moviegoers with such films as Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).
A follow-up to his directorial debut Synecdoche, New York (2008), Anomalisa sees him return to the director’s chair, but in an entirely new medium.
Like Wes Anderson, who took a leap of faith with stop-motion animation in the brilliant Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Kaufman also does so in his own quaint way with Anomalisa, a film equally painstaking to make, but unfortunately is miles away from being even remotely appealing to mainstream moviegoers.
Centering on a man named Michael (David Thewlis), who is wealthy and famous, the film puts him in a midlife crisis of psychological, even existential proportions.
“Our time is limited, we forget that.”
His marriage is not working. He still thinks about his ex-lover. And he is completely disinterested in his work. The only silver lining is that he is not suicidal… yet. Spending a night in a prestigious hotel, he inadvertently chances upon Lisa, a stranger who he is instantly attracted to.
Under the devices of Kaufman, the blossoming romance is treated with an unexpected if refreshing twist – the beautiful female voice of Lisa (by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is contrasted with the ubiquitous, almost mechanical, male voice by Tom Noonan, which accompanies every single character, regardless of gender.
Through Michael’s hallucinatory afflictions, Anomalisa reveals the human condition in dialectical ways – it explores isolation and companionship, monotony and excitement, and ultimately resonates through the film’s incredible attention to the drudgery details of life.
Some moviegoers have walked out of Anomalisa, but I suspect this is too bizarre or ‘boring’ a movie for them. While Kaufman’s work won’t blow you away, let’s hope that its stop-motion animation form combined with plenty of existential musings would herald a new wave of mature, intelligent American animated features.