Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa, film review: ‘Animated folk tell human tale’

08:00 11 March 2016

David Thewlis voices Michael Stone and Jennifer Jason Leigh voices Lisa in the animated stop-motion film, ANOMALISA, by Paramount Pictures

David Thewlis voices Michael Stone and Jennifer Jason Leigh voices Lisa in the animated stop-motion film, ANOMALISA, by Paramount Pictures

© 2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Kaufman uses stop motion to tell this simple story of a one night stand and it proves an effective way to evoke life’s joy and sorrow of living.

Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine) is one of the strangest, most bizarrely inventive voices in American cinema, but his films are entirely straightforward.

Typically his scripts create enormous, surreal labyrinths for audiences to puzzle their way through, but their destination is always directly to the human heart.

The arrangements may be as arcane and elaborate as Brian Wilson’s during his “Smile” period, but beneath it all he’s just a pained songwriter, strumming acoustically and singing about his pain.

His latest is a simple tale about a one night stand and alienation. Michael Stone (Thewlis) is a successful author and public speaker who is an expert on customer service and is deeply dissatisfied with his life.

Flying into Cincinnati to deliver a speech, he checks into his hotel and looks for some human connection, just like any other bored business traveller.

The Kaufman touch is to render it in stop motion animation and to have Stone hear all the rest of the world in the same voice (Noonan) and see it as the same face.

His evening takes off when he finds a woman with a different voice and face.

There are plenty of small, hidden gags and references to be taken in but this is by far his most straightforward piece.

There isn’t a lot to Anomalisa, events move at a steady pace and it reveals itself equally slowly.

Is the animation really necessary or just a gimmick?

I don’t think a live action film could gradually draw audiences into its twist on reality the way this does: the full extent of Stone’s condition sneaks up on you, you’re learning more right up to the end of the film.

With actors and locations it would be very hard not to spell it out almost immediately.

The only other film Kaufman has directed, Synecdoche, is one of the best film of the last ten years in my opinion, but it is incredibly, perhaps indulgently bleak.

Anomalisa is more ambiguous: it is certainly achingly sad and yet it does feature a form of very intense human connection.

There’s something very human about the way it is simultaneously wretched and joyful.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

For longer reviews and a look at the Blu-ray release of Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers, click here.

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