Like I’ve said many times, I’m not a huge fan of animation. But Anomalisa, the stop-motion passion project of genius writer Charlie Kauffman, is a whole other beast altogether. In the vein of other memorable classics on his resume, like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotlight Mind, this one is unique, utterly unusual, somewhat absurd, and surprisingly full of heart. If I must squeeze the film into the animation category, then Anomalisa is without a doubt my favourite animated film of the year, no small feat considering I really enjoyed Inside Out, the Pixar flick that bested it at the Oscars.
I went into Anomalisa without any idea of what the film is about, which turned out to be both good and bad. As per usual, no spoilers from me, though I think it would be helpful to have an inkling of the premise so you don’t end up completely lost.
Based on a stage play penned by Kauffman, the film follows a middle-aged man named Michael (voiced by David Thewlis) as he heads to Cincinatti for work reasons. The majority of the movie takes place in the hotel where Michael is staying and details his interactions with others people, all of whom are voiced by Tom Noonan and have identical faces (this is important but was lost on me for half the movie). Only one person is different — Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh — and her appearance turns Michael’s life completely upside down.
This is one weird-ass film, but it’s also completely absorbing and riveting to watch for several reasons. First of all, you never know where the plot is heading — it’s a wild, wacky ride, and you simply have to surrender yourself to Kauffman and trust him to handle the rest.
Secondly, the animation is captivating. All the characters are eerily life-like, save for a strange crack on the sides of the heads. But even the expressions and movements have this human quality to them, which is both amazing and unsettling. It apparently took two years to shoot everything, often a second or two of footage a day — that’s how meticulous it is.
Thirdly, the movie is funny — really, really funny. In typical Kauffman fashion, the humour is often awkward and dark, but it sure is laugh-out-loud hilarious. And there aren’t many cheap jokes either — everything is dialogue, characters and situation. Fantastic use of profanity too.
Fourthly, I just couldn’t believe how much heart the film had — not just for an animated film, but any film. I believed in the characters and what they were saying. I connected with their personalities and I felt their emotions. All of this despite the surreal vibe coursing through the entire film. A good chunk of the credit must go to Thewlis, Leigh and Noonan for their phenomenal voice performances. It shows just how much of acting is in the way the lines are read.
The result is a trippy, funny and poignant experience unlike anything I’d seen before. My only real problem is that the protagonist, Michael, is actually a bit of a douche, and as such it’s not as easy to empathise and sympathise with the guy as Kauffman may think. Apart from that, I have nothing but positive things to say about Anomalisa. I embraced the weirdness and loved it.
4.5 stars out of 5