Anomalisa Is The Most Surreal Puppet Movie You'll See This Year.
Directors: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson.
Writer: Charlie Kaufman, based on his play of the same name.
Actors: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan.
Opens at: Angelika.
Whenever Charlie Kaufman makes a movie, people pay attention. And with good reason: While his movies may be a little dense and rife with metaphors, they are always visually stunning and filled with some heavy themes.
People are sure paying attention to his latest, too. On Thursday morning, it was announced that Anomalisa, Kaufman's collaboration with stop-motion animation director Duke Johnson of a Kaufman play of the same name and Kaufman's first entry into the world of animation, has been nominated for best animated feature film of the year in the 2016 Academy Awards.
For the majority of the movie, we follow Michael Stone (David Thewlis). He's quite the expert self-help author, and he's considered something of a legend among this weird customer service industry that reveres his words and buy his books. He even has groupies. Still, Michael is a really unhappy person. To him, the world is all the same; everyone looks and sounds the same. Everyone, even his family, all sounds like Tom Noonan, whose voice is all over the place here. It isn't until Michael heads to a customer service convention in Cincinnati that he finally meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the first person in his world that doesn't sound to him like Tom Noonan.
This alone makes her instantly fascinating to him. Soon enough, everything else seems to fade into the background for Michael — and, for once, he can't help it. Attraction is funny like that, and Lisa just might be the person to end our lead's unending loneliness.
This being a puppet-centric movie, it's interesting to note just how well-designed and technically accomplished the animation is. It's almost too good, to the point of being creepy. Credit that to the fact that the puppets were created with the aid of 3-D printers. Despite their faces having a very obvious split, the puppets all look and feel like real people. They breathe, despite not being built for that function, and the way they move makes you quickly forget you're watching puppets. Because of this, everything that happens in the movie feels like a true punch to gut. There is one particular sex scene — yup, a puppet sex scene — that is one of the most heartfelt and honest scenes seen on a movie screen in a long time.
Visually, the movie is as creative and surreal as a Kaufman movie can be — which is saying something given his credits (Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich) — all the while being very intentionally mundane. The visuals don't really pop; everything is pretty beige, everyone is the right kind of polite, the hotels all have that very generic hotel look, even the city itself looks boring. But there's humor and humanity in the details — like when you can't get your key at the hotel to work or you can't get the water in the shower the right temperature.
Being at odds with its protagonist, the movie tries to find the human aspect of the mundane. In that regard, there's some great depth here.
Really, Anomalisa is one of those movies where it feels a little wrong to write a review after only one viewing. In the broadest of strokes, it tries to tackle love, the inexplicably of attraction, and how one's views shape their perception the world. At the same time, it's a very personal and heartbreaking story about an unhappy man drifting listlessly through a lifeless and visually mundane world. That duality is the beauty with this movie — as is the case for all of Kaufman's other films, really.
Altogether, Anomalisa makes for a truly beautiful moviegoing experience. It's the best of two worlds, which is why, even before today's Oscar announcements, the film has already earned acclaim. (Late last year, it became the first animated film to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice International Film Festival.)
It's also the kind of movie that really needs to be seen with a group of people you can overanalyze it with afterwards before re-watching it over and over to try and catch all those things they noticed but you may have missed.
In other words: It's what all great movies should be.