UK Release Date: 11th March 2016
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
Synopsis: A motivational speaker unsure of his place in the world perceives every other person in the world as having the same face and voice. When he finally meets another unique person, his life changes in an instant.
It’s an interesting period for animated cinema at the moment, with the likes of Inside Out and new release Zootropolis pushing the boundaries of what the medium can do in terms of storytelling. Meanwhile, there’s a prime example of how animation isn’t just for films aimed at children in the shape of Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s melancholic tale of romance – Anomalisa. It’s a smart movie that conveys a deeply human tale using some of the most jaw-dropping stop motion animation ever committed to cinema.
Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a motivational speaker who sees everyone else in the world as having the same face and voice (Tom Noonan). One night, whilst visiting a hotel ahead of a customer service conference where he is giving a speech, he encounters Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Lisa has her own unique face and a unique voice, which leads Michael to decide that she could be the key to him finally achieving true happiness.
The first thing to say about Anomalisa is that it is one of the most visually striking movies of the last few years. It uses deliberately lo-fi stop motion animation not to hook in children, but to illustrate the deeply unusual way that the central character sees the world. It’s recognisable as the world in which we live, but twisted through the prism of overtly artificial animation. The limitations and restrictions of the medium actually become a boon for the film, which uses inventive applications of animation in order to create moments of Lynchian surrealist horror that certainly stick in the mind when the credits roll.
Each person you speak to has had a day. Some days have been good, some bad.
The voice performances at the centre of the movie are excellent. Tom Noonan does a truly Herculean job of voicing literally everyone in the world and David Thewlis is a convincing curmudgeon as the truly bizarre protagonist. Jennifer Jason Leigh doesn’t get the same room to make an impact that she was given in The Hateful Eight, but works nicely in a slightly subverted take on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It is undoubtedly Noonan who is the standout, though, using the subtlest of vocal modulations to distinguish between his arsenal of characters. Noonan portrays the inner workings of a warped and confused mind with great skill.
Anomalisa excels in its gentle subversion of romantic tropes. Strikingly given its deliberately artificial feel, it provides one of the most real, human perspectives on love in recent memory. Kaufman’s script portrays the energising power of falling in love and the stunning awkwardness of first sexual experiences. He also, however, refuses to shy away from the sad realisation that a person placed on the highest of pedestals may not be as totally perfect as first impressions suggested.
Unfortunately, there’s a degree of smugness to Anomalisa. It’s a film that is fully aware of its own intelligence and determined to communicate that to the audience at every possible opportunity. Just as Michael places Lisa on a pedestal, the film seems to place itself on that pedestal, radiating a sense of intellectual superiority through the presentation of its central character that it probably doesn’t warrant. There’s no doubting that Anomalisa is a clever film, but it seems unwilling to allow itself to be the distinctly human delight that it should have been.
Sometimes there’s no lesson. That’s a lesson in itself.
Despite its rather spiky exterior, Anomalisa is at its best when it works as a slightly warped take on human love and relationships. The film beautifully portrays the process of falling in and out of love, but gives the audience a central character that it is tough to access on a purely emotional level. Michael sees the world as a place full of people who can’t possibly understand his genius… and it’s not tough to feel as if the filmmakers rather share that view.
Pop or Poop?
Romance and relationships get a distinctly Kaufman twist in Anomalisa, with a delicious central premise and genuinely astonishing visuals giving way to a story that thrives when it is at its most simple. The trio of vocal performances are very strong, with Tom Noonan stealing the show in a series of roles that make Tom Hardy‘s dual performance in <em>Legend look like a doddle.
There’s a whiff of intellectual superiority that makes it tough to truly love Anomalisa, but it’s definitely an example of a film that proves how interesting animated cinema can be.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.