No one walks into a Charlie Kaufman movie expecting the ordinary. He’s made it clear with films like Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that he has no interest in making a blockbuster. Kaufman wants to challenge his audience and show them something completely out of the ordinary, even if it means infuriating them along with way.
Such is the case with Anomalisa, the tale of a man who has lost his ability to connect with other people. Michael Stone is a successful author as well as a husband and father, but his detachment from the world has left him numb to the point of worry. Even Michael can tell that his disinterest is abnormal but he doesn’t know how to fix it, and probably doesn’t care enough to try. Instead, he stumbles through life, hoping to find the one person who will make a difference. Then he meets Lisa.
It doesn’t sound like the usual, groundbreaking type of story we expect from Kaufman, and it isn’t. What makes Anomalisa different is the way it’s told. Stop-motion animation is used throughout the picture with alarming results. It’s occasionally crude but more often unusually life-like, which makes the pervasive melancholy of Anomalisa feel even more threatening. There’s also an interesting device of only using 3 voice-actors (David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan) throughout the film. I can’t explain further without giving too much away, but you’ll figure it out pretty quickly.
One thing you should know going into Anomalisa, is that the first act is excruciatingly slow. Everything moves like you’re having one of those I CAN’T MOVE nightmares, which is maddening. It does pick up the pace and eventually snowballs into a satisfying (but predictable) ending, so don’t give up. There’s also the case of animated sex, which is at once awkward, hilarious, and all too realistic. It’s like watching your Barbie dolls have sex, if they’d somehow aged 30 years and gone soft around the middle.
I might have enjoyed Anomalisa more if I hadn’t hated the main character so much. It’s hard to feel sympathy for someone whose self-involvement is so dense, that it’s blossomed into an actual disorder. I felt far more for the people he came in contact with, and whose worlds were shattered by his narcissism. I was actually relieved when Michael Stone returned to his home, weary and defeated, because at least he could no longer hurt anyone else. -B