Anomalisa full movie review - Abstract Anomaly that Doesn't Quite Cut it
Reviewed by: Dare Devil Kid (DDK)
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
'm a bit mystified by the accolades of "masterpiece" that are being heaped upon "Anomalisa", a stop-motion animation drama co-directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson. It's a unique film, no doubt, and one that takes a lot of risks and has a number of scenes that work quite beautifully. It has the mordant, awkward bits of humor and wry observation we have come to expect from Kaufman, but not the insight; it's all surface, which is inadvertently personified by the artifice of the stop-motion animation. The film is supposed to tell us something about human relationships and the conflict between our ideals and our reality, but it's all muddled, which is what makes its near universal praise by critics so bewildering. Kaufman has certainly earned his share of deserved praise for his inimitable, boundary-pushing screenplays for Spike Jonze's "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation", and Michel Gondry's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". But, he's also hit a few critical bumps along the way, including an earlier collaboration with Gondry, "Human Nature", and his directorial debut, the unmitigated mess "Synecdoche, New York". "Anomalisa", while not quite like the latter, isn't also anywhere near to the quality of the former.
The majority of the film takes place in a nondescript upscale hotel in Cincinnati, where Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a published customer service guru on the lecture circuit, has just arrived. Though a conventionally handsome man in his early 50s who is clearly successful professionally and financially, Michael joins the ranks of miserable Kaufman protagonists whose lives are constantly running aground on their own ennui. Potential redemption arrives in the form of Lisa Hesselman (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a conference attendee he meets at the hotel and to whom he is instantly drawn. Severely lacking in self-esteem and poignantly awkward, Lisa is not the conventional object of male desire, but that is precisely what makes her so fascinating (and Michael's attention so surprising to her).
The film is irrefutably a technical marvel, spectacularly illustrating how stop-motion animation can be just as physically and emotionally convincing as any other medium of human expression or technical wizardry. The puppets, which were individually designed and printed using 3D printers, are amazingly lifelike - almost, but not quite, to the point of being uncanny. They stay just this side of the uncanny valley, never venturing toward that precipitous drop- off where animation that is too lifelike becomes weird.
The problems with "Anomalisa" stem from the two main characters, starting with Michael, who is such a miserable, self-absorbed mope that it's virtually impossible to sympathize with him. Michael's physical mundanity belies the intensity of his narcissism, which keeps him from connecting with anyone and ensures that he remains miserable and alone, even when surrounded by others. Early on in the film, we become aware that all the other characters ? from a chatty cab driver, to the hotel bellhop, to Michael's wife and son and ex-girlfriend - all have the exact same voice (Tom Noonan's voice, to be exact). It's a clever, albeit potentially confusing, means of conveying the sameness with which Michael views everyone around him, which is heightened by the fact that all the faces on the puppets playing the other characters are oddly similar, as well. The key is the name of the name of hotel where Michael stays: the Hotel Fregoli, a reference to the real- life, but extremely rare Fregoli delusion, a psychological disorder in which a person comes to believe that different people around him are actually the same person in disguise. We aren't meant to think that Michael actually suffers from this disorder (although he says several times that he feels like something is wrong with him psychologically); rather, it plays as a kind of metaphor for Michael's interpersonal isolation, which renders everyone around him a single, undifferentiated mass to whom he cannot connect.
Except Lisa. When he hears Lisa's voice, he recognizes her as fundamentally distinct from all the others and immediately seeks her out. Jennifer Jason Leigh does a fantastic job voicing Lisa, and she makes her the most interesting character on-screen (which she is clearly meant to be - a lovable oddball). But, the film stalls emotionally because there is never any depth or meaning to Michael's intense attraction to her. The film is resolutely concrete in depicting his depressive moroseness, but then it gets all abstract when it comes to his propensity for love, which throws everything off-balance. Thus, even the film's most touching sequence - a rather graphic sex scene that plays fair with the inherent awkwardness of two people who barely know each other suddenly getting intimate - doesn't ultimately work because it has nothing emotional to connect to except an idea. Thus, it works in isolation, but not in concert with the rest of the film.
The fundamental problem with "Anomalisa" is that it's little more than the story of an unsympathetic narcissist assigning his piece of mind to a good-hearted oddball. As a romance, it doesn't work because we just want Lisa to get away from Michael lest he drag her into his sad- sack pit of despair. As an interpersonal cautionary tale it doesn't work because the film's attitude toward Michael is so vague. Had it been more clear about what we were supposed to make of his relationship with Lisa - is it a genuine spark of compatible souls meeting at the wrong time or is Michael just a myopic, misguided jerk with no idea of what he wants - then "Anomalisa" might have registered as something more, even if it were just an indictment of its protagonist. Alas, it ends up as a stew of potentially interesting ideas brought to life with amazing artistry that can't quite hide its hollow core.