Someone Out Of The Ordinary: Anomalisa
The animated feature Anomalisa tells the tale of the man experiencing a personal crisis. David Thewlis gives voice to Michael Stone, a British-born writer and speaker now living in Los Angeles. He has flown to Cincinnati on business to deliver a speech based on his self-help book. Michael, though, arrives in the city a bit restlessly. He can't have a smoke in the cab ride from the airport because his driver suffers from asthma. He orders a late supper, but goes out later to catch up to an old girlfriend named Bella, even though Michael has married and become a parent. That ends up disastrously when Michael says something insensitive, and Bella abruptly leaves. He later does some shopping, returns to his room, and prepares for bed.
However, he hears a pair of voices pass by his room, and he has to investigate. Not seeing anyone in the hall, Michael knocks on doors until he finds Lisa Hesselman (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the one with a distinctive voice to Michael who has traveled from upstate with a good friend named Emily. After having drinks with them, he asks a surprised Lisa back to his room. In her travels with Emily, Lisa has never received such an invite. He assures the self-conscious Lisa of her attraction before they spend an intimate night together. That intimacy changes the way Michael sees Lisa, both in dreams and in reality the next day. His restlessness continues even on his return home as his wife throws a surprise birthday party for him.
Anomalisa will alienate some viewers with its often unappealing lead character, but it is an interesting approach to a troubled person from writer and co-director Charlie Kaufman, who has looked at the world in unusual ways with scripts such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. The story makes me recall the film Bulworth, where Warren Beatty played a veteran politician who has grown tired of making the same old speeches, as the words have become meaningless. The hotel where Michael stays also has a significance, as the name refers to a certain condition that might be afflicting him. The stop-motion animation comes from co-director Duke Johnson, and the approach works, since the voice cast is quite limited. The animation also enhances the notion that Michael feels quite disjointed, and a bit less than attarctive. It's not clear whether Michael has even learned anything from this business trip, or even cares about the good his life has brought his way.
The cast certainly does a good job in their roles. Thewlis is not all stone as Michael Stone, although his behavior indicates he's not too concerned about anyone besides himself. For example, he visits a toy store someone has suggested as a place where he could get a gift for his young and materialistic son Henry. Michael quickly realizes the place does not sell children's toys, yet buys the boy something from there. His best moments come as he reassures Lisa that she shouldn't be so self-conscious with others. He does, however, take that reassurance beyond where he needed to take it. Leigh gives the movie its brightest spots as Lisa, who cites Michael's book as the reason her work in marketing by telephone improved. In her moments with Michael, she sings him a song that shows the happy spirit she has inside her, but shares sparingly. All of the other voices come courtesy of Tom Noonan, who perfectly delivers a sameness of tone to all of the non-lead parts besides Lisa.
Anomalisa is not a total winner in my book, but some might identify with the lead character trying to get through a sameness of routine that has permeated his existence. Michael Stone may have done well in certain respects, but he has lost a part of the person who enjoys any measure of his success. He finds temporary solace with Lisa, but other demands weigh heavily upon him. Perhaps Michael should follow Lisa's lead and treat himself and his loved ones to something they don't do regularly. Viewers will be left to wonder if any good experience will register with him, and leave a lasting impact on him.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Anomalisa three stars. Welcome to the Fregoli Hotel?