Director: Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson
Written by Charlie Kaufman
Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan
Anomalisa is an exploration into middle age, depression, and existentialism. Like other Kaufman films there is a downbeat tone with a dark sense of humour splattered throughout. Originally a audio play written by Kaufman, he then adapted the story into a stop-motion animated film which he co-directed with Duke Johnson. Typical of Kaufman’s work it falls apart the longer it goes on. The film may be 90ish minutes but feels longer. At one point it was going to be a 40-minute animated short, which would have been a lot better.
Michael Stone, voiced by David Thewlis (Harry Potter series), is a middle-aged motivational speaker who has travelled to Cincinnati, for an event he is due to speak at. He arrives and checks in at his hotel, where the majority of the film takes place. While there he calls a former partner and tried desperately to find someone to cheat on his wife with.
The animation is beautiful. It looks unique and the characters are so life-like it’s unsettling. There are moments where their eyes look a little too real, or a characters reflection in a car window looks too human. It’s uncanny and gives a feeling that everything is not what it seems. Added to this, apart from Michael and Lisa, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), everyone else is voiced by Tom Noonan (Manhunter). And that is every other character, Charlie’s wife and son, his former partner, the hotel staff, and other guests. His voice permeates throughout the movie at first being funny and then later being unsettling. Charlie is struggling with life, he’s not passionate anymore, he doesn’t want to speak to his son over the phone, he doesn’t have the patience to speak to the hotel staff or taxi driver. He’s looking for something new and fresh. It’s a mid-life crisis and he’s suffering from some deep depression where the world doesn’t quite look right.
There are some humorous moments throughout, but this isn’t a laugh out loud comedy. For the most part it is very downbeat and melancholic. Charlie isn’t a likeable person, but his story is well-presented. You get a good idea of who he is, just from the short time you spend with him. The film just labours on the point and when it feels like it’s going to get whacky and fully original, he wakes up. The dream is the high point of the film, other than that it’s just hammering a point that’s made in the first scene. It takes it’s time doing it and feels a little too on the nose by the end. If it was half the length it would have been a lot better.
Around half-way through there is a long and uncomfortable sex-scene. It’s not too explicit, because it’s animation, but it does drag on for a little bit. It does feel real and not glamourised but you’re still watching Charlie cheat on his partner. There are so many moments in his relationship with Lisa that are presented to us in a sweet manor but they are undercut by what he’s doing. You don’t care about him enough to stay engaged for the whole time, because he’s not a good person and the self-destructive nature is obviously his own doing. If anything he doesn’t really get punished by the end of it, in the way he should. But so is life.
Anomalisa is a beautiful film with some great voice acting from the three main players. Charlie Kaufman is a great writer and the main characters feel real and the dialogue is natural and not stilted. The film is just too long, there isn’t enough in the film to justify the length. It’s a lot like Lost in Translation in tone and execution, but just doesn’t have the same heart that Translation does.