I’ll make no secret of my love of Charlie Kaufman as a writer (and – to a lesser extent – a director). Bringing us zany, hard-to-pin-down movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, Kaufman has a solid reputation in the industry and his writing skills have resulted in some real cinematic marvels. His new film Anomalisa fits snugly into the above list and comes with its own unique challenge: it’s an animation for adults, about the misery of middle-aged man.
Michael (good name!) Stone is a successful self-help writer on a trip to Cincinnati to plug his latest inspirational book and struggling to deal with the tedium of his life. He’s also experiencing an unusual psychological condition (Fregoli Syndrome) whereby everyone else looks and sounds exactly the same. It doesn’t exactly help him to find excitement in the world around him – until he encounters one of his fans, Lisa, who doesn’t fit the mould. They get to know each other over the course of Michael’s night-long stay at the hotel. But will Lisa help Michael? Or is he beyond the effects of her shy charm?
There are a number of talking points surrounding this film:
1. Tom Noonan voices everyone except the main two characters. He does a truly fantastic job of it, consistently making the audience laugh with help from Kaufman’s frequently light-hearted screenplay. And it’s not often you see an actor credited as ‘Everyone Else’.
2. The animation is really gorgeous, so much so that you might forget you’re not watching a live-action movie. It’s also creepy at times, especially when you get a large gathering of people with the same face (the kids are definitely the most disturbing on that front!)
3. Being an adult animation, there is an already-infamous moment of puppet intimacy in Michael’s hotel room. I kind of still don’t know what to think about that. It doesn’t really feel all that necessary, but at the same time I can see why the scene was included. It’s just a shame that it could lead to people dismissing the movie without seeing it – for the record, it’s nothing like that bit in Team America: World Police!
So you’re likely to leave the cinema with plenty to discuss. On top of this, David Thewlis (Professor Lupin from the Harry Potter films) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (who stole all her scenes in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight earlier this year) are both superb as Michael and Lisa.
Even with all that, I think there’s some potential here that isn’t quite being met. I can see Anomalisa being boring to some people, if only because the humour is often quite subtle and the film mostly takes place in one location. If you already hate other people, this movie won’t do anything much to change your mind – and it’s not exactly the uplifting, emotionally stirring picture the trailer suggests.
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