Director: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan
There are interesting minds and voices in the world of cinema, and then there is Charlie Kaufman. The writer of “Being John Malkovich”, “Adaptation”, and “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and also the director of one of the most brilliant films of the last ten years “Synecdoche, New York”, Mr. Kaufman’s work has been equally unique and strange but also intricate and confounding. It’s a characteristic many filmmakers try to emulate but few successfully achieve. “Anomalisa” is a film about imperfect individuals dealing with complicated issues that are never easy or simply stated, it’s a film that displays the pain of loneliness, the despair found in relationships, and the journey of finding ones’ self. Did I fail to mention that this entire story is told through stop-motion puppet animation?
Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is traveling by plane to give a speech at a convention. He leads an unexciting existence and is crippled with a difficulty of interacting deeply with other people. Everything in Michael’s world is a reminder of how alone he actually is, a painful repetition of people and places. By chance Michael meets a woman named Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). He is shocked and intrigued because Lisa isn’t like everyone else in his life, Michael begins to feel something different, something new, something exciting.
Mr. Kaufman doesn’t shy away from the complexities of the relationship between Michael and Lisa, instead of looking for an easy resolution he delves into the difficult matters. What begins as a lustful affair for the couple, displayed through an honest though detailed sexual demonstration, turns into a mess of emotional anxieties and uncomfortable discernments for two people who both want something that is difficult for them to accept. It’s stingingly genuine and truthful; the imperfections that exist within people are demonstrated in various ways, some softly spoken while others exuberantly expressed. It’s a sad and melancholy world, an example of how painfully ordinary everyday life can be when seen through the eyes of frustrated and disheartened people.
The environments created reflect the ordinariness of the world seen by Michael, faces become strangely blank, almost emotionless, because many of the supporting characters are refabricated from other puppets seen throughout the film, just newly styled to fit new environments. Add the brilliant design of making every character besides Michael and Lisa have the same voice, that of the impressive Tom Noonan utilizing slightly different vocal styles, and the world here becomes a reality that is undistinguishable for Michael.
David Thewlis does a fine job of giving Michael a balance of hostility and hopelessness. Jennifer Jason Leigh adds the necessary life to Lisa that makes her a determined beam of complicated sunshine even though her imperfections are just as noticeable as everyone else here. It’s a wonderfully rendered balancing act from two accomplished actors but also a display of Mr. Kaufman’s patient attention and meticulous composition of these characters.
“Anomalisa” is a challenging, yet strangely heartfelt, experience. A story of human connection told in a completely unique way, an unparalleled vision from a masterful storyteller.
4.50 out of 5.00