★★★★ / ★★★★
Although the medium is animation, “Anomalisa,” directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, is not for children but for adults who’ve lived. There is a consistent tinge of sadness to the picture as it briefly but specifically tackles a variety of thoughts and emotions, from one feeling trapped and helpless in a cycle of gloom to a rhapsodic encounter with a potential new partner. Its most adult trait, however, is it avoids pandering to the audience. It is up to us to interpret images like a character’s face coming off and why all of the characters, despite gender, have the same voice.
Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is a published author who carries the weight of his mundane life on his shoulders. His unhappiness is apparent, he is short-tempered, tired, and he finds it difficult to make a meaningful connection. However, when he meets a fan named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) during a business trip, he feels there is something about her that is extraordinary. Perhaps being with her will eliminate the rut that has stuck to him like gum. He is even willing to give up his wife and child waiting for him at home in order to achieve that elusive happiness.
Even though the picture revolves around a character undergoing a crisis, it is often very funny in a dry way. Such a feat is already difficult to accomplish in live-action movies, so to pull it off—and to do it well—in the medium of stop-motion animation makes it all the more impressive. Essentially, these puppets must capture the most human qualities a person can have. Otherwise, everything just looks and feels forced or fake. The script, the voice actors, and the animators are able to form a successful synergy to create convincing situations and relatable, flawed, accessible characters.
Notice the sparing use of close-ups. When utilized, it is often effective because there is always life from behind the eyes. Thus, when a character talks about her insecurities, like being ugly, not feeling smart enough, being too meek or shy, we feel as though these are confessions of a person rather than of a stop-motion puppet or character.
Further, because we relate to her as a person, we cannot help but think about her positive qualities: she is warm, she is approachable, and she seems incapable of becoming someone else even if she tries. We understand exactly why the protagonist is drawn to her warmth, her light. We consider that perhaps they really are a great fit.
Kaufman’s screenplay also touches upon isolation and, perhaps most importantly, personal responsibility. The material is daring because there are suggestions found throughout that we, as individuals, are responsible for our own happiness, that achieving contentment requires hard work at times, not forgetting to check in with oneself every day, and learning to come to terms with the past and realizing that the past does not dictate the present or the future. “Anomalisa” is a film that inspires us to look at the art on screen and reflect the images from within. One way or another, it strikes a chord.