Anomalisa movie full length review - Charlie Kaufman's latest film is not as much of anomaly as its title suggests
Charlie Kaufman is almost surely on the Mt. Rushmore of full- throttled auteurism. Merely describing the plot of his newest film is enough to give you hint of the mind behind the work; a bizarre examination of the mind-numbingly ordinary.
Just as was the case with fellow auteur Wes Anderson in 2009, when he released the excellent Fantastic Mr. Fox, Kaufman seems to be entering the animation phase of his career. The result Anomalisa, a tale of a man who just doesn't feel right in the world he lives in and one who fights tooth and nail to resist falling into the banality that surrounds him. The man in this story is Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) and we first catch up with him on a plane flying into Cincinnati. It is almost immediately evident that Michael is much like many of the other men we have met throughout Kaufman's filmography; middle-aged, despondent, lonesome and not all that attached to the life his has built for himself. Michael is a kind of self-help, customer service expert coming to Cincinnati to give a speech, yet seems unable to help himself whatsoever.
Kaufman accentuates Michael's existential loneliness by making every character we meet along Michael's trip from the airport to the hotel voiced by the same man, character actor and Kaufman favorite Tom Noonan. Throughout this mundane journey, which takes up much of the first third of the film, we follow Michael as he is forced to make ? or rather do his best to not make ? small talk with everyone from the oversharing Taxi driver to the polite bell hop.
It is here where one of the themes, intentional or not, of Kaufman's movies begins to rear its head. The main character, usually a male, is almost always this exact blend of relatability and dismissive callousness. Sure some of what the cab driver says is pointless and at times annoying, but Michael isn't exactly a charming and dynamic man himself, yet upon his high horse he sits.
This theme continues as Michael's world expands. From in his ordinary hotel room he makes a series of phone calls, first to his wife and son and then to his old girlfriend whom he left ten years earlier. Both conversations seem to compound rather than alleviate whatever troubles are boiling up within. Despite this he decides to meet up with his former girl in the hotel bar, a scene that goes pretty much how you'd expect, leaving Michael once again alone. It is not until he meets Lisa who is (Jennifer Jason Leigh) the first to cut through the noise and make a visceral impact on Michael's life. The two eventually share a passionate and awkwardly realistic night that promises to break our hero from his perpetual funk.
When I realized that every voice in Anomalisa was a single actor I had, well, one of these moments. I am a fan of Kaufman's work? from Synecdoche, NY to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ? but he often seems dead-set on walking that thin line between being skillfully clever and a bit arrogant. It wasn't until the moment that Michael and Lisa share the night in the hotel room that I realized the choice of voice actors fell firmly in the former. Lisa's voice represents literally what she means to Michael metaphorically; something new, something different, something to shake him to his core and remove whatever dark cloud has been clearly following him around for years. It is what makes her morning-after transformation, the slow blur of her voice into that of everyone else in this fictional world, all the more heartbreaking. It confirms that the world isn't boring and broken and full of trite copies, but it is Michael who is fractured beyond repair. It is his own outlook, which can no longer see anything unique or beautiful, that is the source for all his despair. On the surface this works. Kaufman once again shows how the inner workings of the mind are often quite different from reality, a worthy topic to be explored. The main issue that once again pervades the film, though, is that I feel like I should be sad for Michael when in reality I am not sure he deserves the beautiful and unique if he can't recognize it all around him. Throughout Anomalisa Michael continuously looks outward to solve his problems, whether it is his wife and son, his old girlfriend or finally, Lisa. He not only hopes they will help him, but seems to think they have a duty to do so. Almost like the fact that everyone is indistinguishable is their own fault rather than his own warped outlook.
Earlier I compared Kaufman to fellow filmmaker Wes Anderson but that comparison has very little to do with style. Where Anderson can take nearly any subject, from foxes to kids getting kicked out of school, and make them utterly delightful. Kaufman's goal, on the other hand, seems to be to take any subject and make you think and think and probably eventually get a little sad, a goal which, for better or worse, he scores with Anomalisa.