Animated films made totally for adults are few and far between. Anomalisa adds itself to that small subgenre. The stop-motion humans are scarily lifelike and yet move like robots. The level of artistic sensibilities in the film is really high. This allows a story involving puppets to become oddly moving.
Michael (David Thewlis – The Theory of Everything, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2), an author and speaker on the subject of customer service, is on a business trip in which he has flown from Los Angeles to Cincinnati. A married, middle-aged man on a business trip. Something that happens all the time. This time, though, the story is a little different.
Despite the fact that he is an acknowledged expert on connecting with people, Michael leads a rather isolated, desolate and unhappy life. He is bored with his life and is looking for an escape even though he doesn’t know it. With each interaction he has with a human you can feel the awkwardness whether that human is his taxi driver (Tom Noonan), his wife (Tom Noonan) or the bellboy (Tom Noonan). Michael is a lost man.
Once in his hotel room he calls his ex-girlfriend Bella (Tom Noonan – from the television series 12 Monkeys), who he has not seen or spoken to in 11 years. She agrees to meet him, but it ends in disaster. Michael is back in his room when he hears a voice. A different voice from everyone else’s who sound exactly alike. He goes on a search through the different rooms on his floor and finally comes across friends Emily (Tom Noonan) and Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight, Road to Perdition). Lisa sounds different to his ears and so he is attracted to her immediately.
After plenty of drinks Michael and Lisa return to his room together. Michael is ecstatic about the connection he has made. Lisa’s unique voice makes him feel less alone and he encourages her to talk and talk. They soon end up in bed together. The next morning after a disturbing nightmare the Lisa high begins to wear off. Has Michael’s connection only been momentary?
Human connection is a tricky thing and it is illustrated beautifully in this animated feature. Done in a semi-realistic fashion it is a film that is also high on the uncomfortable/creepy quotient. Not only do the humans move in that stilted way that robots do and their faces seem detachable, but they all speak in the same voice. Makes you rather uncomfortable when watching the film.
An beautifully rendered and detailed animated film done in the stop-motion style with characters that are part human, part robot looking. Choosing to do it this way is integral to the film as it is a comment about how technological humans are becoming and with everyone trying to be the same as their neighbour, so much so that individuality seems to be seeping out of human existence. Plenty of criticisms of the Western world’s reliance upon consumerism.
The best parts of the film are when light breaks through the gloom. I have never been more moved by the Cyndi Lauper song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” then when Lisa sings it to Michael. When the beauty is a surprise it has even that much more of an effect.
As an entirety it is a rather surreal experience which is entirely not unexpected with Charlie Kaufman as the co-director and screenwriter. It is almost like an animated continuation of his film, Being John Malkovich. He is a man who has stood apart from the masses in Hollywood always making or writing films that are very unique. Kaufman has the ability to take everyday situations and common occurrences and turn them on the heads rendering them quite profound and moving. Kaufman is the master of strange but affecting.