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.
Australian release date: Thu 4 Feb
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: www.anomalisa.com
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