Anomalisa Movie Review
Some people want to watch the world burn. Others want to make sex scenes with stop-motion 3D-printed figures. Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich) has always danced to his own tune, and Anomalisa is certainly what you’d expect from a Kaufman-directed film: sort of weird, sort of alluring and brilliantly written.
Anomalisa is about a customer service expert named Michael (David Thewlis) who has arrived at a hotel the night before he’s to give a speech at a conference. So bored with his life, he now observes everyone in the world as having the same face—and even the same voice (even his wife and young son look and sound the same as the taxi driver who picks him up at the airport). But when he encounters a woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), he becomes convinced that the two of them are the only individuals left in the world.
So… yeah. Anomalisa is not for everyone.
The very premise is strange, and takes some getting used to. The quasi-realistic (different than surreal) world in which the movie resides, the 3D-printed characters obviously artificial and yet simultaneously realistic, draws you in and makes you forget you’re not watching real people (even when an erect 3D-printed penis flashes on screen). The story is mundane, until it isn’t, until you realize that you’ve been in Michael’s head the whole time, and that his reality is spiraling out of control.
Kaufman is still one of the most intoxicating writers working today, his screenplays rich, creative, mesmerizing and unique, and Anomalisa is just another excellent example of his genius. Just when you think the movie is about nothing, it becomes something, and soon it has ensnared you with its complexity and brilliance.
Co-director Duke Johnson, with a background in stop-motion animation, should not be ignored. Would this movie have worked with live actors (it’s based on a Kaufman-scribed play, which starred the same two leads)? It’s hard to say, but it’s hard to imagine the movie being better as a result. The artificial world at play, like so many of Kaufman’s works, straddles the line between reality and fantasy and helps make the story as absorbing as it is.
Anomalisa is not for everyone, but it is one of the best movies of 2015.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.