Anomalisa is a little indie production from 2015, directed by Charlie Kaufman, and David Thewlis. The “Little” is to be taken literally. For one thing, the film began as a sound play, and was only able to make the leap to screen through a kickstarter campaign by the directors. As a matter of fact, it only features three actors. For another thing, the film is stop-motion animation, and everything in the movie, the people, the vehicles, every single solitary prop, is in miniature.
There are a number of issues to be had with Anomalisa, many of which are integral to the plot itself. I was interested to find out that this was the first R-rated movie, to be nominated for the academy award category of best animated picture. To my disappointment, this film doesn’t really earn the R rating. At least in my opinion, for a movie to be so objectionable, that an entire demographic is to be barred from seeing it, the story ought to be complex, and worthy of this slight. Anomalisa is lacking in this regard; in actuality, it is a fairly simple story, (barely feature length) and it could easily be told with the same effect, receiving a PG-13 rating. A slew of curses bombard the watcher, and there is a lot of misplaced sexuality, that doesn’t belong in the story (I was so uncomfortable I skipped past several sequences).
The beginning of the movie, finds Michael Stone flying into Cincinnati, for a lecture of some sort. He is a successful writer, but he seems to feel empty. He gets to his hotel, and calls his wife and son. After a halted dialogue, he almost immediately calls up an old flame to meet for a drink. When she realizes that he is in fact, trying to hook up, she leaves in anger.
No worries, he soon finds a pair of young ladies on vacation, who are fans of his work. They go back to the same bar, for drinks. Up until this point, every character, save for Michael, has had the same face, (these are puppets remember) and is voiced by Tom Noonan, resulting in an overwhelming sense of sameness. Lisa, however, has a unique face shape, and her own voice. Michael is taken with her. He proceeds to engage in an affair with her, despite all logic. How can one root for this character? He is a depressed, abrasive man, who, for some reason, seems desperate to cheat on his wife.
When he wakes up, he realizes that Lisa is, in fact, normal. He is annoyed by her, sees her differently, and her voice even begins to sound like everyone else’s. He returns to his house, to a welcome home party full of guests that he can’t recognize. This is a depressing sentiment. It seemed to be saying that only Michael and Lisa were unique — he tells her, “we are the only two people in the world” — but then pulls the rug out from under that Idea, and suggests that we’re all depressingly similar.
I object to this film, for so many reasons, but as I powered through, for one reason. The excellent animation. Every time anything happens, it is amazing. Near the beginning of the movie, Michael uses an ice dispenser, and the tiny cubes realistically clatter out of the chute. Throughout the movie characters drink countless beverages as well. The liquid swishes about in glasses, fluid as can be. One amazing moment even shows Michael pouring coffee in one smooth stream, into a mug.
Its not often that I feel so polarized about a movie. If the film was without its unique visual style, I would hate it. The lack of morals whatsoever displayed by the supposed protagonist is just too much to abide. However, were the film more uplifting, and maintaining this fascinating medium? I’m sure it would be a new favorite of mine. In a weird way, I hope this film is successful, and inspirational, because in the end, the defining feature is its meticulously detailed animation. If filmmakers can recognize this medium, and infuse it with better storytelling, I will be a happy critic; but in the meantime, I had a hard time being optimistic about this one.