As befits a script from the quirky mind of Charlie Kaufman (think Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Anomalisa is a startlingly original and somewhat disturbing film. It’s the kind of movie that is often discomforting to watch but still leaves you feeling utterly rewarded once the tight running time winds up.
Kaufman’s story (originally a play) is, as usual, witty, smart and thought-provoking, as his protagonist, Michael Stone, lands in Cincinnati to present at a Customer Service conference. Stone (voiced with perfect melancholy by the doleful British actor David Thewlis) lives a successful, much-lauded life, but cannot force a smile for the well-intentioned hotel staff, such is his existential burden. Stone’s experience of the world is cleverly conveyed to us via the sea of cloned faces and voices he encounters on his business trip. The fact that he is not a live actor but a puppet makes the experience all the more curious and compelling.
Stop-motion animation isn’t just for the kids, as evidenced by the shenanigans of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s characters in Team America: World Police – but Anomalisa takes it to a much more serious level, and consequently shocks when its adult characters engage in, well, adult activity. Because the script is spot-on and the voice casting ingenious (Thewlis’s aforementioned moping is brilliantly despondent against Jennifer Jason Leigh’s chirpy Lisa, while the rest of the cast are voiced solely by the generic American accent of Tom Noonan), we are completely captivated by the office workers’ interactions, particularly as Stone’s malaise starts to ring bells of personal resonance (maybe. If not, you’re very lucky).
Thanks to Kaufman’s co-direction with the much younger Duke Johnson (an animator and director making his feature debut), Anomalisa entertains as a fresh, eternally relevant and cheekily irreverent prompt, if you need one, to change your life – or to at least appreciate what you already have.