We review this intimate offering by the acclaimed Charlie Kaufman…
As a successful lecturer and writer on the subject of productivity in the service industry, Michael Stone (David Thewlis) lives the hotel-room life. As you might expect, this Lost in Translation existence has left him deeply cynical and, not only that, unable to distinguish one person from another. To Michael, everyone has the same blank, white, male face, and talks with the voice of Tom Noonan, until a chance encounter with the “anomaly” Lisa (get it now?), who has her own face and talks with the voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh. As luck would have it, she’s in Cincinnati for the weekend to attend Michael’s lecture. Star-struck, nervous and gabbling, and unable to believe that Michael isn’t more interested in her friend Emily, she ends up spending the night with him. Michael is convinced he’s finally in love, but will that conviction be enough to keep Lisa unique to him in a faceless world?
Anomalisa, the latest picture from acclaimed screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and only his second as director, is a hauntingly intimate little puppet-show of a movie. When I say puppet-show, I don’t only mean that Kaufman finds himself once again puppeteering his characters through an odd, yet familiar, world; the film uses stop-motion animation. Even the most cursory Internet research on the project will tell you that the project was written and performed ten years ago as a “sound play” – performers on stage, but using only their voices, a score by Carter Burwell, and sound effects as necessary to convey the story. At some point, some bright spark had the idea that a sound-only play would be a good thing to translate to the visual medium of film, whereupon a brighter spark – Kaufman – hit upon doing it with animation. And it works, really it does. Save for an occasional surrealistic touch, there is something intensely recognisable about this world that mostly only exists as a bar, a corridor, and a hotel room. Perhaps it’s something about the sterile interchangeability of hotels in general. Certainly the choice of Cincinnati as a setting is not arbitrary; there is something existentially bland about the hundreds and hundreds of decently-sized cities that litter the United States, their names vaguely familiar, but having no associations to call to mind: Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Tulsa, Des Moines, Montgomery, the various Springfields. This sort of Rotterdam-or-anywhere setting has been put to work in live-action films such as Se7en, Dark City, and The Matrix, for various purposes, but there is always something self-consciously surreal about its use, constantly drawing to viewers’ attention that they are not inhabiting mundane reality. In animation, stop-motion especially, we expect a world that is simultaneously limited in its scale and a universe unto itself. For that reason alone, this is Kaufman’s most modest project, his least surreal.
Every one of his previous films has earned the adjective “mind-bending” in some review or other. No doubt the same will happen with Anomalisa but, one Kafkaesque dream sequence aside, it doesn’t deserve it. The everyone-is-Tom-Noonan conceit may seem a recognisable one; it might bring to mind the everyone-is-John-Malkovich conceit from Being John Malkovich. But the picture does not unfold through various layers of reality or anything like that, and what begins as a quirky little rom-com unfolding in a peculiar little world soon reveals itself as something more grounded, more serious, more interested in the ways that people commit self-sabotage in day-to-day life; in short, more intensely, painfully human. The odd quirks remain, and are not always successful, but the overall picture is of one of cinema’s most distinctive voices facing middle age with wisdom and gravitas.
Anomalisa is released today (11th July) on DVD and BLu-Ray, will you be buying yourself a copy? Let us know in the comment box below!