DIR: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson • WRI: Charlie Kaufman •PRO: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnsen, Dino Stamatopulous, Rosa Tran • DOP: Joe Passareli  • ED: Garret Elkins • DES: John Joyce, Huy Vu • MUS: Carter Burwell • CAST: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan

The brilliant Charlie Kaufman makes a very welcome return to our screens, co-directing his own script with Duke Johnson, in this haunting and humorous stop-motion treatise on human relationships. It’s been eight years since Kaufman’s last outing – the magisterial Synecdoche, New York – and it really is sad that an artist of his calibre has struggled for funding for various projects since. Kaufman had to turn to Kickstarter to get Anomalisa made. The film’s subsequent critical raves and popularity at various festivals should at least ensure Kaufman does not have as much trouble raising finance for his next project.

The film follows Michael Stone (Thewlis), an alienated customer services author, who flies into Cincinnati the night before he is to give a talk at a conference. In Michael’s world, and the world of the film, everyone speaks with the same voice (Tom Noonan), be it a boorish taxi driver driving him to his hotel, his ex-girlfriend, his son, his wife. Even the music that Michael listens to is infused with that same droning delivery. After an ill-advised meeting with his ex-girlfriend, Michael hears from his hotel room the sound of a different intonation. It is that of Lisa (Jason Leigh), a fan of Michael’s book, who is also residing in the hotel, a few doors up from him. Subsequent to this delightful discovery Michael invites Lisa and her friend for a drink and then later, Lisa to his bedroom. And so begins a fragile, mismatched and finite night of passion and romance between the two.

There are some shades of Lost in Translation about the alienated hotel room setting but Kaufman’s film is a more slippery, ambiguous affair. It lacks the scale of Kaufman’s Synecdoche, being a more low-key and simpler affair. However, Kaufman doing simple still results in richness unmatched by most other contemporary filmmakers. With Anomalisa, he has essentially given us a film in which two lonely people spend a night together in a hotel but has injected with strange beauty and also genuine sadness and pessimism. The film is often hilarious in its cynical depiction of human nature, but there’s also something almost disturbing and eerie about the world of the film. Lisa stands out to the viewer in the same way she stands out to Michael’s foggy, depressed mind.

The engagement with Michael’s subjectivity is achieved largely through the extraordinarily detailed animation. The technical majesty on show is probably best exemplified by an extraordinary sex scene between Michael and Lisa. On paper the description of a puppeted sex scene might conjure up memories of Team America: World Police. But here the scene is not played for laughs. It is explicit, sustained, and tender. It also feels decidedly real.

Another key component of the film is the terrific voice work from the three actors. Thewlis really captures the burrowed melancholy of a man so cut-off from those around him. It is to my mind, the actor’s most memorable role since Mike Leigh’s Naked. Jennifer Jason Leigh also does exceptional work. Her rendering of Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun is another odd image and sound that proves difficult to forget on seeing the film. Noonan, voicing every character other than those two, also excels in what could have been a thankless role.

A film of hidden depths and subtle riches. Essential viewing.

David Prendeville

89 minutes

15A (See IFCO for details)

Anomalisa is released 11th March 2016

Anomalisa – Official Website


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