Anomalisa Film Review: The Puppetry Of Loneliness

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Tweetable Takeaway: Anomalisa is Charlie Kaufman at his most reserved, but no less poignant or thought-provoking. 


Forgetting failed romances, plays within plays within plays, and multitudes of John Malkoviches are only a few pieces that make up Charlie Kaufman’s oeuvre. And now, with ANOMALISA, he can add stop-motion animation with a man searching for someone to make him feel again. Along the way we get the normal Kaufman flourishes of surreal, dreamlike-states, truly poignant moments, and a film that will tickle and stick to the mind long after the film has ended.

Michael Stone is our protagonist, and he’s voiced by David Thewlis. He’s on a plane, landing in Cincinnati to give a conference on customer service. But there’s just something not quite right about the world Michael finds himself in. First there’s a fellow passenger who continually invades his personal space, then the overly talkative cab driver, and a front desk clerk at his hotel who stares at Michael uncomfortably long. There’s something that’s just not settling right. Is it the animation style? The stop-motion nature of the film certainly lends itself to the surreal feeling of the world, but that’s not all that’s going on here. Sooner or later, the film will click for the viewer, and once it does, the entry of Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is all the more significant. After Michael spends a good amount of time practicing his speech for the conference and attempting to get in touch with a former flame, he hears the voice of Lisa and must learn more about her. Something about that voice, something about this person speaks to Michael. The effect of hearing that voice in the film is a burst of sunshine on a gray, muddled day.

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Anomalisa accomplishes so completely that feeling of hopeless gray, of walking around underwater, unhappy, that it’s intended effect of Michael meeting Lisa is also perfectly done. It creates perfectly that feeling of not knowing what one was missing out on until it’s in one’s life. Again, the viewer is beset by more questions. What is Michael Stone suffering from? Is it simply depression, or is there something deeper going on? At one point Michael wonders aloud if it’s the Zoloft at work. By the end, viewers will have some of their questions answered, but others are left open to interpretation. For those who prefer a cinematic experience wrapped up nice and neat by the end, Anomalisa may prove to be trying. For those patient enough to devote some thought to what they’ve just witnessed, the film will likely stay with them for at least a little while afterwards.

The puppet characters lend themselves well to the scenarios at hand. At times their movements are so fluid, one almost forgets an animation is playing out on screen. But it’s not long before a character walks stiffly through the scene, or we get a close-up of the puppet’s face, seam dividing top half and bottom half left in, that the illusion is dashed. Not that it’s a bad thing. The stiff movements add to the out-of-body affair the movie puts forth. And the seam in the face allows for a terrifying moment in which a character nearly pulls it back to reveal his inner workings. All of it compliments the ideas in the film, which is the most important goal it can accomplish.

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Anybody who has remotely felt the emotions or sensations on-screen in Anomalisa will instantly relate. Even though they’re pushed to their extremes in the film, it’s then one can make the most sense out of them, manage them, even. Anomalisa explores the loneliness and life crises in ways few other films can, and although it’s far bleaker than Charlie Kaufman’s other work, it’s worth seeing nonetheless.

I give Anomalisa 4 unsettling puppet faces out of 5.

Score:  4 out of 5

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Wil lives, breathes, and loves movies. On applications he will often list the movie theater as his second residence, and the usher as his emergency contact.
Twitter: @TheCantaLoper

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