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Film Review: Anomalisa

Updated on February 21, 2016
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Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.


In 2015, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson released Anomalisa, based on Kaufman’s 2005 play of the same name. Starring David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan, the film grossed $2.9 million at the box office. The first animated film to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice International Film Festival, it won the Austin Fantastic Fest Award for Best Director and was one of the Fantastic Features, the Mill Valley Film Festival Audience Award and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists Award for Best Depiction of Nudity, Sexuality or Seduction. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film as well as the Annie Awards for Best Animated Feature, Best Directing in a Feature Production, Best Music in a Feature Production, Best Voice Acting in a Feature Production, and Best Editing in a Feature Production.


Michael Stone is a best-selling self-help author who is in Cincinnati for a customer service conference. However, he’s very lonely and sees everyone around him as the same generic person. But things change when he suddenly hears a unique female voice, one that belongs to a woman named Lisa.


Interestingly made, Anomalisa is a great film that’s very well-presented. Michael is the main focus of the film and the film does very well in portraying him as a very lonely man that can’t seem to connect to anyone other than Lisa. He can’t seem to hold a conversation with anyone and when he tries to meet an old flame, he just winds up insulting her which causes her to become even angrier than she already is. It seems that his reason for being unable to connect is why Noonan is the only other voice besides Thewlis and Leigh: he is suffering from the Fregoli Delusion, a syndrome where a person believes that multiple people are the same person in disguise. It seems to be that he’s found that everyone he meets to be that person and it’s taking a toll on him. In that regard, it’s no wonder that the man reacted to Lisa’s unique voice with wonder, surprise and joy.

Notably, Lisa herself is a great character which adds to how unique she is in Michael’s life. She’s always second guessing herself and believes that she isn’t as wanted as her friend. It seems that her time with Michael changes just as it changed him. She changed him by making it so that he was able to enjoy life, albeit for a few moments before he went back to his unfortunate life. At the same time, he ended up changing her by helping her to be more sure of herself. It’s interesting that the film actually ends by focusing on her, showing that she’s become a more hopeful and confident person, going by her letter where she writes that she hopes the two of them will meet again.

A very well-conveyed aspect to this film is its sex scene, which actually is one of the more realistic and honest portrayals of sex in film. Rather than the two of them just launching into lovemaking, the two of them ease into it with Michael working to make Lisa more comfortable. When it goes further, he apologizes for thinking he hurt her and the two of them work to make it a more enjoyable experience. There’s also how it doesn’t look as simulated as other sex scenes do, with the two of them seen as genuinely experiencing the moment’s intimacy. Honestly, had it not been Michael cheating on his wife with Lisa, the moment would have been much more charming, even though Lisa was the only person he saw as unique.

The animation is also noteworthy, as the stop-motion is used very effectively in showing just how distant Michael is with the rest of the world. It’s realistic-looking enough to make the characters look human, but also just cartoony enough to make it unsettling, which is often described as being a part of the Uncanny Valley. There’s also how the joints separating the upper and lower halves of the faces were kept on the character models. It works well for Michael’s delusion, though. It makes it look like the characters are wearing masks which further his thinking that everyone is the same person, strengthened by how Lisa’s friend looks like herself in the final scene.

5 stars for Anomalisa

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinions.


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