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Review - Anomalisa

By midlandsmovies, Mar 30 2016 07:31PM

Anomalisa (2016) Dir. Charlie Kaufman/Duke Johnson

Stop-motion animation is the lengthy and gradual yet satisfying process of capturing tiny facial movements to reflect real emotion which makes it the absolutely perfect medium for Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s introspective animated drama Anomalisa.

Based on Kaufman’s play, the animation sets aside cartoon clowning in favour of an uncanny realism and the movie employs the brilliant vocal talents of David Thewlis as customer service expert Michael Stone and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa Hessellman. Stone is a lonely man who arrives at a hotel in Ohio to speak at a convention but is haunted by a letter from an old lover whom he attempts to re-connect with but it is the first of many self-absorbed mistakes he makes as his efforts prove to be fruitless.

A very slow burner, the film portrays everything Michael does as deliberate but also very much tinged with doubt as he tries to settle in this distant world away from his family. He calls them on the phone and it was here I first realised that everyone other than Michael – and I do mean everyone – has the same voice. Using a brilliantly drab tone, from the taxi driver, hotel porter, his past lover and even his family, they are in fact all being voiced by Tom “Manhunter” Noonan. Reflecting the banality of how he perceives those around him Michael is however drawn to a sole female voice in the corridor that is different from the identical speech previously filling his ears.

This anomaly is Lisa (Anomalisa) and after drinks in the hotel bar with her and her Noonan-voiced friend, she ends up in Michael’s room. The introverted Lisa has a scar on her face hidden by hair but Michael sees uniqueness in her and her bashfulness and reserved nature slowly dissipates as Michael showers her with praise and interest. Ending with them making love, the puppets avoid the obvious Team America comparison with tender moments of timid playfulness, awkward fumblings and bumped heads in a very emotional sequence. An astonishing achievement, the film transcends its marionette medium during their courtship to show true affection, and I guarantee you’ve never heard Girls Just Wanna Have Fun sung so beautifully.

Waking from a nightmare which appears to question his understanding of love, the following morning starts bright but Michael’s self-interest is soon exposed as he is unable to connect with Lisa as he did the night before – even going as far as chastising her eating habits. Kaufman has again used a quirky device to uncover universal issues of identity, memory and individuality. Whilst our thoughts on Michael may be suspicious, the film shows how small moments can mean everything for Lisa, leaving all but the most cynical sourpuss with a note of positivity in a world of fleeting moments. Nothing, it seems, is inconsequential to everyone and Michael’s character dwells in an egotistical pool of trust issues and self absorbed detachment which rarely invokes much sympathy but is absorbing to watch.

With dazzling animation, Kaufman’s tight script and a distinctive style to wrap the themes around, this exceptional film is that rare beast where mock-up mannequins gives us not just an imitation of life but show the intimacy of life.

When Kafka meets Aardman you get Kaufman.


Midlands Movies Mike

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