Film review: Anomalisa

Part of a series of reviews for films from the 2016 Kamloops Film Festival

anomalisa-posterAnomalisa is a visually stunning stop-motion animated film that tells the story of a man becoming unhinged in a world where he thinks everyone is just one person. He seems exhausted just living in his own life as characters like taxi drivers and hotel clerks, who all look and speak the same aside from their hair and clothes, appear in his life and do nothing to make things better.

The film, which is largely without cuts in time except when characters are asleep, follows middle-aged motivational speaker and customer service veteran Michael Stone as he arrives in Cincinnati for a conference. Clearly lonely and bored, Michael tolerates his own existence at his hotel until he hears the voice of another – the anomalous Lisa, who sounds and appears strikingly distinct. After a series of missteps to establish Michael’s tired existence, we get to watch him pursue Lisa, who is overflowing with character and real humanity.

The talent behind this film’s creation is apparent. Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman co-direct the film masterfully. Charlie Kaufman lends his wonderful madness to the film as its screenwriter and a number of colourful executive producers pepper the film’s credits as well, including Dan Harmon and Dino Stamatopoulos, who you might know from the TV show Community.

Co-director Kaufman is the master writer behind films like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If you’ve seen any of those, you’ll know why I’m bringing them up – they all revolve around the idea of becoming unhinged from reality. Anomalisa is right in line with this trait of Kaufman’s, but it’s also compelling for a number of other reasons.

The film’s dialogue feels very natural and real. It also deals with some awkward characters, which play perfectly against the audience to make them feel awkward too. In a film where everyone is made of plastic, it’s easy to see some very human activity – including the first stop-motion animated sex scene I’ve ever seen, complete with what I can only describe as very complete animated models.

On the voice acting side of things, a fantastic trio makes up the film’s entire cast, with David Thewlis playing the older business-minded Michael, Jennifer Jason Leigh playing the anomalous Lisa and Tom Noonan as every other character in the film. Yes. Every other character. And while Noonan is no doubt a talent, he’s not doing voices here – well, not more than one voice, anyway. He delivers a wide range of characters, from haughty hoteliers to flirtatious women, all with the same tone and inflection, just as he’s meant to.

Anomalisa delivers a delightful dose of weird along with a heaping spoonful of humanity. As one of the first major adult-oriented stop-motion animated films, it’ll be interesting to see what it’s contribution to the film world will really be.