To say Anomalisa is set to be one of the most unique films of the year feels like somewhat of an understatement.
Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Film as well as a Golden Globe in the same category, Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion comedy-drama would surely have walked away with the honours were it not for Pixar’s exceptional return to form with last year’s Inside Out. Anomalisa did win the Grand Jury Prize at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival, which represents a fine consolation.
It opens on a flight as author and customer service expert Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is travelling to Cincinnati on a business trip to promote his latest book at a convention with other customer service representatives. Stone appears downtrodden, pessimistic and tired with life. His interactions with other people are short and distant.
Before long you notice something curious about the other people in this movie – they all have the same face and even the same voice (Tom Noonan). That is, until Michael meets a woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who he becomes smitten with because of the sheer fact that she’s different from everyone else – she has her own face, her own voice, a sense of individuality which Michael had become unaccustomed to as all others merged into one. Michael thus declares her an anomaly – Lisa becoming the ‘Anomalisa’ of the film’s title.
To go into any further details would spoil the experience of discovering how this plot plays out. Kaufman has crafted a story (originally written as a stage play in 2005) that deftly captures a sense of identity crisis and loss of enthusiasm for the intricacies of everyday life, with the appropriately middle-aged Michael as his conduit. We get the feeling that Michael’s current lifestyle is tinged with regret; an entertaining dream sequence at one point during the movie illustrates the character’s failing attempts to outrun what he cannot avoid.
There’s an undertone of seediness to certain parts of the movie that may put some viewers off, but this is easily outdone by its outstanding visual achievements, which help to ensure Anomalisa will appeal to anyone with the slightest interest in filmmaking or animation. The main selling point of the film is, of course, its use of 3-D puppets – there does come a point when you forget them as you become immersed – and they somehow make the experience seem more real than if we had been looking at actual people the entire time.
Perhaps it will become known as a novelty film in hindsight, and people may use that as a criticism. Regardless, it’s one that has to be seen and appreciated for what it is… quite simply, a movie that will be talked about for years to come.
9 / 10