ANOMALISA – REVIEW: Imagine Wallace and Gromitt but written by Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett’s insecure child.
Charlie Kaufman is really the screenwriter Philip K. Dick would have been if he’d had a settled into writing non-Science Fiction. With co-director Duke Jones, he has created in Anomalisa a deep, witty and moving portrait of alienation filmed in stop-motion slightly furry animation. Everything here is obviously fake, the sky, the city, the plane, so much so that it takes you a while to realize that all the voices except for Michael Stone’s (David Thewlis, drawling and ornery) are all the same, played by the original Mr. Dolarhide, Tom Noonan in a tone as soft as the fabric world around them. Stone is a perplexed motivational speaker who is in the middle of a mid-life crisis, gripped by an ennui which is either caused by the fact everyone sounds the same or causes everyone to sound the same. Visiting Cincinnati for a speaking engagement, Stone struggles with every interaction. Tersely polite, he teeters on the edge of irritation and suppressed rage. All seems lost to him and the same. He has a happy family life at home, but has no connection to it. He falteringly tries to reconnect with a former lover Donna (Noonan again), but the date goes predictably wrong. Ultimately Stone can’t escape his own head until that is he meets a girl whose voice is different. Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh in what is proving a watershed year) is the anomaly of the title. And now all the cliches of love at first sight (listening?) come literally true. Stone inadvertently proves himself the ideal companion. He doesn’t care about her appearance all he wants to do is listen to her voice, hear her sing, talk, chat away. She is unique to him – the only person he wants to be with etc.
The question might be why does this film have to be animated? Well, why not? but to take it further Kaufman and Jones really do something with the animation. Because animation of this kind is so labor intensive, it tends to conventionally operate on a certain elegant economy of movement. Here, this is subverted and every minor gesture is reproduced, every tick, every hesitation, all the things that make us human in fact. There’s the reality of the gestures and motions against the artifice of the world. Stone is a characterless character to some degree – white middle aged man of minor success – but he’s surrounded by people who also look alike and sound identical. So what makes people individual? “What is it to be human?” Stone asks. “What is it to ache?” And weirdly without a single human appearing on screen, Anomalisa kind of answers those questions.