Anomalisa & Michael

Anomalisa movie review

In a nutshell: While Anomalisa is remarkable visually due to its stop-motion animation featuring 3D-printer-created puppets, as a drama it is dreary and forgettable.

Anomalisa features: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
Director: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
Writer: Charlie Kaufman

Australian release date: Thu 4 Feb

Reviewer: rolanstein

Animated puppet flick Anomalisa, the latest creation from Charlie Kaufman and based on his 2005 play of the same title, has been greeted with rapturous critical acclaim. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it has something to do with earlier Kaufman films such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation casting him as a whacked-out post-modernist cinematic genius of the surreal.

Thing is, the weirdness runs only skin-deep in Anomalisa, and its most impressive creative aspect is the puppet animation, which works far better than the narrative or characters. The lead character, self-help guru Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), who is on-screen throughout, is a lonely, mopey downer, faintly reminiscent of Leunig’s sadsack creations but without the poignant, wistful, endearing qualities with which we so readily identify. He sees the human world as dull and homogeneous, everyone including his wife and kids appearing to him as copies of the same person in appearance and voice (always male in tone, and similar to his own voice). A narcissistic projection?

In Cincinnati to give a lecture, Michael phones an ex who is still smarting from their break-up a decade earlier, and after a few drinks in his hotel lobby invites her to his room. Unsurprisingly, he is rebuffed. Mope mope.

Hope arrives in the person of Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who has tickets to his lecture, and is staying in a room just down the corridor. While she is outwardly very ordinary, Michael sees something special in her – she has her own look and a female voice (hence his renaming of her as “Anomalisa”)! An admirer of his books, she is open to his attention. They end up back in his room, have graphic puppety sex and it seems that this is It for both of them. However, over breakfast next morning, his idealised vision of her begins to fall away when he is bothered by her eating. Needless to say, his lecture later that morning does not go well.

Doomed by his self-centredness and unrealistic expectations to remain lonely, depressed and alienated, it’s hard to see him as other than an intolerant, judgmental jerk vainly looking for the impossible – an imperfect man seeking perfection in his partner. He thoroughly deserves his doom, and it’s hard to empathise with him or care much about his situation.

In the end, Michael and the story that is built around him don’t add up to anything much. Exchange the animated puppets for live actors and the result would be a forgettable and dreary movie.

Movie website:

For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives

4 thoughts on “Anomalisa movie review”

  1. Spot on!

    What are we to make of a protagonist who, after his long night of the soul, has progressed not an inch?

    As an aside, I was amused, watching this with my daughter, to have her recognise the Flower Duet from Lakme (which is the ear worm in Anomalisa) because I took her to that opera in Sydney a few years ago. Tick for parental obligations for cultural enrichment discharged; tick also for both of us discovering it’s a crap opera with one good song.

    Also, I wondered what the stop-motion animation added. Why go to all that trouble, instead of using live actors? The one scene where he had a sense of his robot-like existence falling apart could have been done with special effects.

    1. “What are we to make of a protagonist who, after his long night of the soul, has progressed not an inch?” Yeah, and what are we to make of a writer who puts us through that long night for no reason, other than to grind our noses in his protagonist’s non-progression (and by doleful extension, ours)? Really, what’s the point?

      Completely agree re the use of stop-motion animation rather than live actors. A lot of trouble just to add a quirky feel. Then again, when the woodheap’s built hollow…

      Glad, but not surprised, to learn that you also couldn’t make out the emperor’s new clothes, Karen! And with that flurry of trite metaphoric indulgence, I’d better leave off.


  2. Had to look that one up, Lisa. Trey Parker and Matt Stone – haha…say no more!

    Don’t suppose puppet sex is a huge departure from Japanese anime porn. Actually, Fritz the Cat circa 70s could be the one to point the finger at as the prototype for cinema humanoid sex. I do recall being a little shocked by Fritz – beneath the worldly facade I wore about, of course.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.