Thursday, January 14, 2016

Anomalisa Review

It's almost unsettling how soulful and tender Anomalisa is. It's truly hard to believe. A work of stop-motion animation involving puppets and during the first few minutes of the film it was a little jarring to watch. I think part of the problem at the start was the fact that so much of any given frame looked remarkably real and yet here we have characters that certainly are not.

It doesn't take long to get over this issue. In fact, it's one of the aspects that makes the picture so wonderfully brilliant and unique. Human or not, the emotional depth of this script makes it impossible not to relate to the characters, even if you aren't literally suffering from similar issues. Perhaps you once did and you can never fully shake the haunting loneliness of the past. Maybe you fear this fiction becoming a personal reality, with a current companionship or connection that feels potentially far too fleeting. It could be that you don't see yourself or your circumstances while watching Anomalisa but you know someone like Michael. Everyone does.

Whatever it is, by the time any early jitters settle down and you begin to understand the entire picture that directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson were trying to paint, it becomes quite clear: Anomalisa is a layered, fascinating masterwork, and one of the finest films from 2015. Some may find the storytelling device of having every single character except for the two leads be voiced by the same actor, regardless of gender, to be distracting. That job is relegated to Tom Noonan, best known for playing the vicious serial killer Francis Dolarhyde in Michael Mann's Manhunter, and the choice of him is inspired. Of course it sounds strange, to have multiple different people both male and female share the exact same voice throughout the entire film, but it all makes sense the more we get to know Michael (David Thewlis). He is married and has a child waiting for him at home, yet something is clearly missing from his life. There is an emptiness, a loneliness in play and even on the face of a puppet we can see it in his eyes. Everyone sounds exactly the same because it is the way he views the world, as if he is surrounded by the same boring people who aren't capable of striking a meaningful chord within him. That is, until he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). She is everything Michael needs and more.

While an animated feature, Anomalisa is not for children, and this mostly boils down to a truly beautiful sex scene. Yes, a lovemaking sequence between two puppets. Sounds creepy and a bit funny, right? Wrong. It's understandable to assume this but the actual result couldn't be further from those expectations. What Johnson and Kaufman achieve here is extraordinary, as they execute the type of scene that often times doesn't even work when shared between two gorgeous people filmed as live action, yet here we have animation and puppetry and the passion on display is palpable.

Anomalisa is bold, beautiful cinema that is also riddled with heartbreak. It's a richly raw and stunningly original work, one that demands to be seen and taken seriously. 



  1. OMG I totally forgot about this film !! I saw the trailer a few weeks ago and while I love stop motion animations these figures freak me out. I thought they were human for a while, but then it got weird when I realized it wasn't real, and then the main guy I always thought he had glasses, but they were just the crack in the face when changing face plates, which creeps me out even more.

    1. Yep, the look of the characters and their movements is strange early on, but it turns out to be a wonderfully deep look at humanity and depression and the need for companionship. By the time this one ended, I was in love.