The man who let us be John Malkovich, and took us on a trip through Jim Carrey’s spotless mind, returns with arguably his finest work yet – and most surprisingly – in the shape of an animated anomaly…
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After a seven-year absence, Charlie Kaufman – perhaps America’s most distinctive and creative screenwriter – returns to the silver screen with yet another brilliant, emotional and wholly original tale in Anomalisa; all the more surprising and impressive by utilising the now somewhat antiquated (but still highly effective) stop-motion animation technique.
Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is a middle-aged, self-help author with an expertise in customer service. He’s fatigued by his mundane existence and is completely incapable of connecting with anyone around him – all of whom he perceives as identical men with identical voices (all voiced by Tom Noonan) – until a business trip to Cincinnati, where he meets an anomaly in his hotel; Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a highly insecure and reserved young woman. Believing this extraordinary girl to be the cure to his negative life perspective, he awkwardly pursues a relationship with Lisa, desperate to maintain this unique connection.
Despite its animated aspect, this is Kaufman at his least gimmicky. Here he drops his usual bizarre plot devices and twisted worlds in favour of the intimate scope of a mostly singular setting. He allows his characters to grow through lengthy conversations and monologues rather than strange events, and it results in his most human piece yet.
Michael is an utterly believable depressed and distant family man, thanks to Kaufman being unafraid to let us dislike him at times. While definitely sympathetic, Michael is undeniably self-centred, expressing a loathing or complete disregard for even the important people in his life. He’s a deeply flawed character, yet an extremely accurate picture of the isolation of depression – a jerk, perhaps, but a very relatable one.
Lisa, on the other hand, is quite the opposite to Michael and the rest of the oppressively identical population, though not without her flaws either. Incredibly reserved and shy due to a facial scar, she shares a mutual loneliness with Michael that draws them together despite their many differences, and both Thewlis and Leigh do magnificent voice work to bring their characters to life; particularly Leigh, who compels us to care deeply for Lisa.
All of this leads to Anomalisa’s most talked-about scene; following Team America: World Police’s outrageous and ridiculous puppet sex scene, this could have been reduced to an off-putting joke, but instead we’re delivered the kind of deeply visceral experience live-action films wouldn’t dare show. It’s cringe-worthy, funny and romantic; a very honest portrayal of first-time jitters.
While it seems the favourite is the computer-generated Inside Out for the Best Animated Feature Oscar this year, it’s terrific to see the more traditional Claymation efforts like this and Shaun the Sheep Movie still making the grade, and Anomalisa truly is a step forward for the subgenre. Never has a stop-motion picture felt so utterly realistic in its purposely dull set design and incredibly detailed hand-crafted dolls. The camera tracking is flawless, and its characters so involving, so personal that it is often easy to forget that you’re not watching real people acting. It truly is unlike any animated film you’re likely to see. Kaufman adds to, and perhaps surpasses his flawless canon that he has been honing since Being John Malkovich, proving to be forever full of hilarious, emotional and profound surprises.
Anomalisa is available in Australian cinemas from February 4th
Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures