The inimitable Charlie Kaufman, whose past credits include existential masterpieces Being John Malkovich and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, again explores themes of isolation and failures of communication in new film Anomalisa: a brilliantly conceived and sensitively scripted piece of filmmaking.
Anomalisa marks Kaufman's first foray into stop-motion animation – and is a work of brilliance in that respect, too. Kaufman’s film was funded by a kickstarter project, and has gained praise for its immensely true-to-life emotional weight, described, despite its medium, as "the most human film of the year".
Anomalisa follows middle-aged writer and motivational speaker Michael Stone (David Thewlis) – the Golden Boy of customer service – who arrives in the monochrome, rainy city of Cincinnati to stay in a chic hotel prior to a talk he’s giving about his new book.
The same mumbling, masculine American accent follows Stone everywhere, each person he encounters is a variation on the same mould: from airline pilot to fellow passenger, all (besides Stone himself) bear the same uniform facial features – taxi driver, hotel concierge, wife and ex-girlfriend.
But when Stone hears a lilting female voice distinct from his monotonous daily soundtrack, his life takes on a note of rare adventure. “Another person!” he cries, chasing the voice to find Lisa (or as he calls her, ‘Anomalisa') – a young customer service representative (Jennifer Jason Leigh) with whom he falls, immediately, in love.
The visuals are breathtaking. A unprecedented work of realism in stop-motion animation, there's something disconcertingly human in the puppets' glistening eyes. The choice of medium is a mark of Kaufman’s genius, allowing him to acutely reflect the monotony of depression in a way that one feels only stop-motion could achieve: his characters are almost human, with their flesh-like skin and expressive faces – but not quite. We're in uncanny valley territory: real life has been warped to make the audience, like Stone, feel slightly remote and disconnected.
Polite staff linger, sheepishly making idle conversation; Stone stares blankly at his unfamiliar face in the bathroom mirror. The sterility of hotel existence – so acutely realised in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation – is here conveyed through puppets and felt furniture alone.
Not to say Anomalisa isn't laugh-out-loud funny. It's littered with little self-referential visual gags, and Kaufman's shrewd script highlight his characters' idiosyncrasies in a way distinct to him. Stone is unwittingly abrasive, unable to understand the women around him. A tendency to unnecessarily expletives pepper the script. The overly sycophantic manners of hotel staff are undercut by a very recognisable air of pompousness.
Anomalisa is a work of satirical brilliance: it fuses the tragedy tinged romance of Eternal Sunshine with the existential traumas of Being John Malkovich. Those who are put off by Kaufman's conceptually challenging plot-lines will be relieved: it's probably the most accessible film he's made, but retains the poignancy that turns Kaufman's films into instant cult classics.
Anomalisa tells of a world in which uniformity reigns supreme: of a man striving to find something unique amid all the monotony. As Stone becomes desperate to cling on to the only semblance of difference he can identify, we steadily see the problem is not the mechanical humdrum of his surroundings, but Stone himself. His life becomes more surreal, his depression constantly recalibrating his sense of what is unique or attractive.
Typically strange and utterly memorable. Kaufman’s latest film works its way deep under the skin, so that you'll find yourself seeing those same disturbingly homogeneous characters in the faces you pass in the street long after the credits roll. Disturbing, moving, and very beautiful.
|What||Anomalisa film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
11 Mar 16 – 11 May 16, Times vary depending on cinema
|Price||£ determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to go to the film's IMDB page|