Be prepared. Anomalisa is a strange film, but audiences have come to expect such from Charlie Kaufman, the Academy Award winning screenwriter of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, who was also nominated for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.
One might better understand what to expect from the disconcertingly animated Anomalisa if one knew it originated as a play for Carter Burwell’s Theater of the New Ear. Described as a “sound play,” the actors—David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan—performed the play like an old-fashioned radio drama. They read the script while seated and accompanied by an orchestra and a foley artist. Imagine Thewlis and Leigh verbally miming sexual congress while the foley artist rubbed sheets together. The movie version might prove even more strange thanks to the realism of the puppets created by 3D printers. Odd as it all may sound, Anomalisa is a rare treat you may not wish to sample again but cannot stop mentioning to others.
The plot is minimal. A self-help author in need of help himself, Michael Stone (v. Thewlis) travels to Cincinnati for a conference. While there, he reunites with an old flame, visits a sex-toy store while looking for a gift for his son and meets two young female fans. He quickly falls in love with one of these women, Lisa (v. Leigh), the only other person in this quirky animated world who does not sound like or slightly resemble Noonan. (If nothing else, the film beats both The Monster Squad and Manhunter to win the Award for Best Use of Tom Noonan EVER.) I told you Anomalisa was weird.
Ultimately, the film is about loneliness and the disconnect between people. Witnessing such weighty ruminations revealed by what resemble hyper-realistic Muppets keeps audiences off balance, just as one would imagine Kaufman wants. His best films never allow the viewer to get comfortable; he never lets you know the destination before arrival. Such inscrutability is rare in today’s formula-, sequel- and intellectual-property-driven Hollywood.
This film also has the most puppet-related nudity and graphic sexuality I have seen outside of Team America or Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles, both of which had much more comical intentions. Anomalisa does have humor, but it is darkly bittersweet. If any of this sounds appealing, Anomalisa is the first film of 2016 you cannot miss.
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