4 Stars

Out of 4 Stars4

Anomalisa (2015, USA, d. Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson, 90 minutes)

by Robert Joseph Butler

It was only a matter of time before idiosyncratic and renowned screenwriter turned director Charlie Kaufman, the highly acclaimed Oscar-winning screenwriter (“Adaptaton”, “Being John Malkovich”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), would make an animated film based on his stage plays. With his recurring themes of loneliness and alienation, this time is co-directed by Kaufman and animated veteran Duke Johnson. This is Kaufman’s first project since his 2008 polarizing and bold creation Synecdoche, New York starring the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman which was an exploration of the creative process, as well as existential issues involving life, death, love, family, and art. With his latest film Anomalisa Kaufman goes back to more accessibility that captures his off-beat sensibilities.

Anomalisa is a humane and deeply engaging stop-motion animated film that features computer animated puppets. With a running time of less than 90 minutes with credits that go on for well over five minutes mainly due it’s long list of thanks to numerous special donors on a Kickstarter Campaign, as you watch Anomalisa the question lingers your mind as to why it had to have been animated with puppets? If you recall the 1999 Spike Jonez masterpiece Being John Malkovich that was also scribe by Charlie Kaufman featured his protagonist as a failed puppeteer who had dreams of fame and stardom with is puppetry. There is no doubt Kaufman has a fascination with puppets. Anomalisa is a masterful study of modern alienation and the mundane cycle of life, the film offers a refreshing idiosyncratic point of view about loneliness. The animation and use of puppets in the animation along with the terrific voice work by David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan truly anchors the material into something refreshing and oddly moving.

The film is about a self-help author and motivator Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), everyone else around him sounds exactly the same (voiced by Tom Noonan) and he feels completely disconnected on his one night trip to Cincinnati where he is scheduled to give a speech to a group of entrepreneurs, business owners, and innovators who yearn for success. While he motivates others who have such longings, it is discovered that Michael has his own yearnings of his own. He reaches out to an ex-girlfriend who is emotionally wounded from Michael’s past relationship. They have an encounter together in a the hotel bar that ends disastrous and awkward. He feels completely disconnected and unloved from his wife and child who live in L.A., and he is searching for something more complete.

Everything just appears to be bland as he ironically gives many hope, he feels hopeless and incomplete inside. On a side note the city of Cincinnati is a second home to me. After traveling to the Cincinnati Film Festival numerous times to hold Q and A’s for my film I can say that Kaufman captured the rich sand small details of the city quite honestly and comically.

That all changes once he hears a standout voice in the hotel hallway and he encounters a shy and insecure woman Lisa (Voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who brings Michael hope. There scenes together bring so much warmth, nuance and pathos that I was deeply absorbed with their exchanges. With one evening together Michael begins to believe that Lisa is the woman he has been waiting for. The movie eventually takes unexpected turns, sometimes into the surreal, and other times into offbeat Kaufman territory. The film is truly beautiful and it’s absolutely refreshing from beginning to end. There is also a sad melancholy to as it dives into themes of expectations and disappointments from preconceived perceptions. The film is a very funny, but sad and bittersweet all one in. Anomalisa is truly a milestone in the animation genre and truly a masterpiece of 2015.

The stop-animation is brilliant and the skill with the staging is impeccable for an animated film, Kaufman decides to use a lot of moving shots and long takes. Overall the film explores a lot of terrifying themes and the result is haunting and honest. Who would have thought one of the most honest and humane films would have been from animated puppets? Then again the film is created Charlie Kaufman, a truly great artist that understands the human condition.