Anomalisa (2015)
Anomalisa (2015)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.

Release Date: December 30th, 2015 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson Actors: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan

 


 

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hough devoid of any real people, “Anomalisa” challenges the audience with a conspicuous, powerful humanity echoing in every scene and lingering on each line of dialogue. Conversations flow naturally. Perceptions reflect reality. And the interactions between characters are distinctly human, provoking unease, sympathy, and humor – sometimes all at once. Whether it’s the laboriousness of crafting uncomfortable exchanges with strangers, the precarious dance of courtship, or the struggle with self worth, everyone can relate to an emotion experienced or witnessed by “Anomalisa’s” protagonists. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s film will undoubtedly make its viewers think, though the highly existential vagaries, surreal uncertainties, and graphic sexual nature may cloud its more fascinating insights into human behavior.

Caught in a seemingly inescapable cycle of monotony and perpetual flight from meaningful relationships, author and orator Michael Stone (David Thewlis) heads to Cincinnati to speak at a customer service conference. Desperate for companionship, he calls up Bella, an old girlfriend he hasn’t seen in eleven years. After the expectedly awkward and dispiriting encounter, Michael happens upon Emily and Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), two young women who are staying at the same hotel and plan to attend his speech. Inviting them out for drinks, Michael becomes attracted to shy, timid Lisa, and attempts to cultivate their connection.

“Anomalisa” doesn’t give away its imagery right away; instead, through the sounds of conversations and small talk, audiences are gently let into the world of its unsettling animation. There’s a certain level of realism to the eyes and props and environments of these Gerry Anderson-like creations, but it’s the voices that truly bring these marionettes to life – particularly with the outrageous gimmick of having Tom Noonan voice every character other than Michael and Lisa. With this concept, the film’s meditative insight into mundanity allows little observations on humdrum routines to reveal the components of Michael’s escalating dissatisfactions. From a taxi ride to checking in at a hotel to ordering room service, Michael is clearly caught in a series of excruciatingly ordinary events – ones that heavily weigh on his psyche.

It isn’t until the explicit, real-time foreplay, cunnilingus, and intercourse sequences that “Anomalisa” unveils the failures of its ultimate experiment. Specifically human activities possess an eeriness that is difficult to shake, even though the voicework by Thewlis and Leigh is utterly mesmerizing. Such authentic notes of tenderness and sexuality permeate their discourse, even though it’s filtered through the restricted movements of plastic puppet faces. It’s also quite odd that “Anomalisa” is animated in the first place; it lacks all of the signature elements inherent to the art form, including out-of-this-world happenings and pure fantasy. As an artistic analysis of midlife crises or a delirious descent into unbearable mental discontent, the mix of peculiar character designs and utter ordinariness is completely effective. Plus, the humor is sensational. But as a slice-of-life drama (and just the tiniest sliver at that), the film is mostly experimentation with little amusement, interested not in conveying a story so much as commenting on a psychogenic affliction.

– The Massie Twins

  • 4/10