Starting its life as an audio play and eventually brought to the screen with the help of Kickstarter, Anomalisa is 90 minutes of genius, a film able to both conjure a sense of wonder and empathy- a stop motion symphony in possession of a humanity most live action films never come close to attaining.
Michael Stone, a motivational speaker (Voiced by David Thewlis) arrives at a Cincinnati hotel on business. After a disengaged phone conversation with his family back home, and a strange meet up with an ex girlfriend; he finds Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a groupie-like fan of his whom he instantly falls for.
Anomalisa carries the scent of its writer and co-director Charlie Kaufman(along with Duke Johnson, who directed the claymation episodes of TV show Community), whose knack for tackling complex human themes in unconventional ways has yielded stories such as Being John Malkovich and Synecdoche, New York, films which reflect introspection onto the outside world in surprising and wildly imaginative ways. Characters in Anomalisa carry incredible emotion that transcends the detail of their design in ways imperfectly beautiful, where the fragility of its content executed in a way that is as funny as it is poignant. Tom Noonan lends his voice to ‘everyone else’-the hotel Fregoli which Michael stays in is twinned with the name of a delusional belief in which one believes every person is the same. Noonan’s voice work here is at times hilariously disingenuous, and at others a depressing insight into Michael’s failure to decode the world around him. It’s a disorder that runs perpendicular to the theme of the film, the disappearance of individuality painting as much a societal picture as well as giving an ingenious mental insight.
Michael is a character apt to being dislikable, but it would be myopic to view this as a slight of the film. Although overly self obsessed and even to an extent predatory, it is the world we witness in the perspective of Michael rather than the character himself which provides the true brilliance of the film. Eschewing a prescriptive moral stance towards characters in favour of a study of the self as a whole, it is a canvas of todays life, the passing moment and banality of everyday existence that Anomalisa targets. It hits the mark in this respect, but in a way that is both subtle and surreal- bewilderment and abstractness are its devices rather than judgement and forceful representation that would only undermine its audience.
In a film where the clay models often bear construction marks on their faces, a suspension of belief must premise the price of admission. Michael as a character is a complex of issues, a wormhole of almost despair-like depression and pessimism, consistently interesting to behold but difficult to root for.
In a world where moments too often pass us by without thought, with life’s pace succeeding its value, Anomalisa is a film that builds a world aesthetically departed from reality, but with resounding pertinence to everyday life, the years first true masterpiece-one that will surely be remembered as uniquely constructed, wonderfully written and slyly humorous.