Anomalisa - Portrait of a Dilhole
It’s nice to get another Charlie Kaufman movie! His last feature; Synecdoche, New York, came out in 2008 to middling reviews. Some people got it, others didn’t; I loved it. He’s such a weird dude with such a distinct style that I’m not surprised he hasn’t been able to get anything greenlit these past few years. I heard about his latest film making all of the festival rounds, and suddenly, like with few films, I got very excited. Kaufman is one of the few true visionaries in cinema right now. He does not want you to think he is, he simply is. Unfortunately, Anomalisa doesn’t have the abundance of riches that Synecdoche does, but it is a fascinating character study buoyed by great animation.
Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis) is in the middle of a mid-life crisis. He cannot extract any joy from his life, and all of the people in his life merge together (they are voiced by Tom Noonan). When he goes to a conference to speak on customer service, he meets a girl named Lisa (voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh) and they share a brief connection. The film is a fascinating look at depression and what it is like to not really like yourself or anyone else.
The voice acting is remarkable, most notably by Noonan who adapts his voice to accommodate the situation. Sometimes I noticed him and caught the gimmick, others I didn’t and that’s bloody amazing. Thewlis and Leigh also share an intimate connection that amazed me. Their work is so raw and so great that you forget its voice acting. Their VA performances are better than most physical work actors have put out in recent years.
Anomalisa is ultimately about depression and narcissism. It is a captivating look at both. Michael Stone has an inflated view of what he’s accomplished, and while what he’s accomplished is not necessarily bad per se, he still feels intensely dissatisfied with his life and marriage. He knows what he should do, he knows the role he needs to adopt, but he is completely unhappy.
Which brings me to my biggest question about Anomalisa? Does Michael being, from a third person perspective, pretty unlikable sink the movie? The way I see it, it’s much easier to sympathize with Michael than it is to actually enjoy him as a person. I would not spend time with this character, no, he would get on my nerves after a while, and I suspect I his; but these characters that you don’t like still have psychologies that remain unexplored, they have events that made them that way, and they have things that they want, regardless of if they realize just how selfish those things are. These are tenets of life, and ones Anomalisa is provocative and brave to explore.
Anomalisa is a film that is not for everyone, and isn’t the most accessible sit, but it is also a unique film in style, presentation, execution, and plotting. There is a lot to be liked here for those who are looking for a film that doesn’t necessarily want to tell them absolutely everything. The role of the viewer must only be so subservient, Charlie Kaufman is one filmmaker that wants us to participate in the experience on an intimate, human level.