Adult neurosis become animated in ‘Anomalisa’ — Ultimate Movie Year
David Thewlis voices Michael Stone and Jennifer Jason Leigh voices Lisa in the animated stop-motion film, “Anomalisa,” by Paramount Pictures (Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures). finds the best films from weekends past to build an all-star lineup of cinema.
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Released Dec. 30, 2015
Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Where to Watch
It says something about how infantilized American society has become that the terms “adult themes” and “mature themes” suggest a story more scandalous than it really is. Film has at least advanced that animation doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for kids. Still, the stop-motion technique of 2015’s “Anomalisa” may obscure the notion that it’s one of the most effective comedy-dramas made about and for adults in the past decade.
“Anomalisa” brings us into the world of two people dealing with more noise in their lives than ever while remaining completely isolated from society, an experience has only become more relevant after an election year that included the worst pandemic in a century. Michael Stone (David Thewlis ) is a customer service expert who is so checked out of his existence, he can only hear one voice (Tom Noonan) wherever he goes. He travels to Cincinnati, Ohio, to speak at a hotel conference, and despite being married with a young son, Michael is desperate to connect to someone — anyone — to escape from his reality. He finds a way out when he hears Lisa Hesselman (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a sweet woman whose life is so mundane that attending an out-of-town customer service conference in a generic hotel counts as an exciting vacation.
Every element I’ve described reinforces the middle-aged adult malaise Michael and Lisa are trying to break out of. When they meet, see, and hear each other, a path to another life is discovered. The grass looks greener over there, but are the obstacles to our happiness external or internal?
Kaufman, the writer behind identity-bending films like 1999’s “Being John Malkovich,” 2002’s “Adaptation,” and 2008’s “Synecdoche, New York,” originally conceived of “Anomalisa” as a stage play.
“I was trying to figure out how to use the form — which in this case was voices,” Kaufman said in a 2015 interview with Film Comment. “That was where the idea of one character playing all these people (came from) — to sort of suggest someone’s inability to connect with other people. No matter what form I write in, I am always trying to figure out how to use that form to inspect the damage.”
“Anomalisa” did not hit with audiences in the theater — it only grossed $5.6 million of its reported $8 million budget, but this was never meant to be a crowd-pleaser. The directors skillfully use these animation techniques to bring us into an unusual world where the characters are more often than not imprisoned only in their minds, echoing a common Kaufman theme. It is a memorable film with a distinct point of view that is absolutely worth your time.
“Kaufman represents something rare in filmmaking: genuine originality,” writes Ann Hornaday in her review in The Washington Post. “Cerebral, sensitive, sometimes excruciatingly erudite, he’s a philosopher king among denominator-lowering commoners. He’s high-minded, which would be obnoxiously off-putting were it not for the note of tender melancholy that graces his work like a pale, just-bloomed bruise.”
Next Week: “Leprechaun”
Originally published at https://ultimatemovieyear.com on January 7, 2021.