Anomalisa (2015)

March 9th, 2016
Author: Meredith Taylor

Writer| Director: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson

With the voices of: Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Thewlis, Tom Noonan

90min Animation | Comedy | US

Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) is joined by stop-motion specialist Duke Johnson for this gloomy but watchable dystopian tale, which raises the odd laugh in spite of its depressing outlook.

Michael Stone (Thewlis), a small celebrity and author of a Customer Service bestseller, lands in Cincinnati to speak at a congress. In the bland hotel Il Fregoli, he feels lonely and ‘phones his ex Bella, a woman whom he left abruptly 11 years ago. They meet in a bar and we are shocked to hear her speak with the voice of Tom Noonan. Michael tells her about his unhappy marriage and Bella runs off, frustrated. Back in the hotel, Michael still feels depressed so he knocks on a few doors and eventually meets Lisa (Lee), the only woman with a female voice. After much drinking, he seduces her and promises her the Earth. Disillusioned the next morning, he returns home to his wife Donna and his little son.

There something very intriguing about ANOMALISA despite its banal premise and is largely due to the fascination of the puppets. Endearing and rather cute, they have soft downy looking faces and move a round with a jerkiness that reminds us of the TV series ‘The Woodentops’. Sometimes the upper end of their faces sometimes becomes unhinged, so we can see the electronics of their brains. The women all look more or less the same and the individual male characteristics are not much more developed facially, although Michael’s intimate parts are fully formed. Everyone lives in a state of emotional regression and there are clearly anger management issues resulting from emotional stress of 21st century and talk in cliches picked up on TV or from advertising. Michael is a banal character who is disconnected from reality or the consequences of his actions: when he picks up a present for his son, he ‘overlooks’ that he is in a sex-toy shop, presenting his son on his return with an antique Japanese sex doll, which secretes sperm in the hand of the minor.

Kaufman is, as usual, very clever: The Fregoli syndrome is a psychiatric term for a paranoid development which allows the person afflicted to see all his attackers as one being. One of the causes of the condition is the long term use of anti-depressants. There are hilarious moments in Anomalisa, when Lisa sings a heartbreaking version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cindy Lauper in Michael’s hotel room. But overall, Anomalisa suffers from a detached approach where the audience is not always sure if Kaufman is laughing at or about his protagonists. The puppets are stunning, but the whole experimental atmosphere feels too orchestrated and contrived. A maximal aesthetic effort contrasts with a rather lightweight and schematic narrative but worth seeing for its original look. AS


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