Anomalisa is more miserable brilliance from Charlie Kaufman. He’s got a distinctly pessimistic world view that’s not going to sit well with some people, and his latest effort, which feels birthed from the same source as his previous masterpiece Synecdoche, NY, is just as dryly hilarious and caustically introspective, if even more interested in the crushing banality of life. Co-directed by Kaufman with animation superstar Duke Johnson, all of Anomalisa is designed with stop motion animation, with digital effects used to smooth things over, and the results are positively unique and at times distractingly curious. I spent the first 15 minutes of this film just staring at the construction of the faces and bodies, not to mention becoming sort of obsessed with the cracks in the sides of the heads; there’s a beguiling sense of wonder that comes from watching this strange and unique piece of cinema, and it truly feels like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The story is classic Kaufman stuff: A man is VERY disappointed with his life, and through a series of unfortunate circumstances, has to learn that not much is going to change, and that he’s doomed to repeat his frustrations again and again. David Thewlis voices the lead character, all filled with self-doubt and existential paranoia, and totally unimpressed with the fact that he’s married and has a kid and is still obsessing over an ex-girlfriend. Then, he meets a woman, exquisitely voiced (not to mention sung) by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and he thinks that this is it – he’s found his EXACT match. But, this being a romance from the poisoned soul of Kaufman, I’m not spoiling anything by saying that by the conclusion, happiness will likely still be out of reach for everyone.
It really reminds, in lots of ways, of the Coen brothers film A Serious Man, which I think is one of the top five efforts from those acerbic artists. Like A Serious Man, Anomalisa is about temptation, regret, disappointment, and the general principle that if something bad can happen, it more than likely will, even if there are moments of levity along the way. Lots of people will be immediately turned off by this film, and that’s cool. I get it. Scenes of oral sex comprised by Claymation characters shot in stop motion probably aren’t what everyone has in mind for their Saturday afternoon. But for me, this film was a non-stop (if incredibly dark) visual and verbal treat, a further reminder that there is only ONE Charlie Kaufman, and that his collective work has formed some sort of overall treatise on the human condition. Tom Noonan’s phenomenal voice work went a long way in cementing this film’s confidence, and without spoiling it, the central conceit to the sonic nature of the film was beyond heady. Joe Passarelli’s impossible to fully understand cinematography is worthy of repeated viewings as to dissect all of the subtle and ingenious ways that ideas were visually conveyed to the viewer. To be honest, I never thought this movie was going to open in my area, and including myself and my wife, there were four people in the theater, with the other two individuals displaying ZERO outward response to the film. Very interesting. I consistently wonder if people know about the films they choose to see before buying a ticket. The film was based on a 2005 play that Kaufman wrote for a Carter Burwell produced theater series comprised of “sound plays”, and it’s the first R-rated animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.