Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
Director: Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman
In management speak, it’s pretty fair to say that Charlie Kaufman tends to think outside the box. Eternal Sunshine, Being John Malkovich and Adaptation are all fabulously madcap films, but for all the dreamy sequences and oddball sci-fi, all have one particular element at their core; the unforgiving exploration of humanity. For Anomalisa, Kaufmann teams up with Duke Johnson to create a stop motion puppet animation which yet again tunnels into parts of the commonplace human psyche that are so regularly ignored.
Michael Stone (Thewlis), author and respected customer service guru, has travelled to Ohio where he is to give a keynote conference speech. After a couple of awkwardly failed attempts at making his single evening in the hotel interesting, he relishes the devotion of two girls who have travelled hours to attend his speech, and slowly starts to view anxious, self-deprecating Lisa (Jason Leigh) as the perfect remedy to all his troubles.
Every person Stone speaks to converses in the exact same voice, a demonstration that everyone in his life, his wife and son included, is regarded with equivalent obscurity, merely another supporting actor in his progressively egoistic home movie. The tight-lipped frustration at his wife’s insistence that he speaks to his young son on the phone is wonderfully telling. Even the hotel he stays at, the Fregoli, is a reference to a rare condition in which the sufferer imagines that every individual is in fact the same single person in disguise.
Anomalisa focuses on the mundane, the sensation of futility of one’s own existence through the daily grind of life. Stone relentlessly exhibits the amplified fragility and volatility of emotions of the crisis-hit middle aged man. The movie illustrates the mounting realisation that life may not hold the unyielding delights that one once thought it would, how even success can be insignificant in comparison to the ever increasing need for something more, something stimulating. One of the movie’s most devastating emotional tricks is to expose how disappointingly temporary newfound experiences really are once reality settles back in.
Possibly the most remarkable thing about Anomalisa is that despite the character’s appearance being obviously puppet-like (the joins in the face are intentionally noticeable), you quickly forget this is an animation, so impeccable are the sentiments, flaws and passions given to the individuals by the plot and dialogue. A heartrending emotional attachment to Stone and Lisa is impossible to avoid as you cringingly share their awkwardness and needy sexual tension towards one another.
Thewlis is a genius piece of casting as his slow melancholic northern English delivery perfectly corresponds to Stone’s solitude, irritability and desperation for attention. At no point do you deliberate his or Jason Leigh’s voiceovers, such is the flawlessly intrinsic match between voice and character.
Anomalisa is desperately sad, brutally truthful and viciously funny. It is exceptionally rare to be able to genuinely label a movie unique, but Anomalisa is about as close to that as you’re ever likely to get. It is a glorious, perfect masterpiece of a movie.
9 / 10