There have been plenty of animated films targeted towards adults in the past, but none of them are quite like Anomalisa, the first film from Charlie Kaufman since 2008. It’s a movie that worms its way into your heart and is simply unforgettable.
Anomalisa is based on a play Kaufman wrote and tells the simple story of Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a customer service expert who flies to Cincinnati for a one-day business trip. He’s ready for it to be a boring experience, because everything else about his life is boring. But while he drowns his sorrows at the hotel, he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) an oddball girl who is really excited about seeing his speech about customer service.
After an incredible night together, Michael feels reinvigorated, but his nerves are still shot. He fears that there will be no way to bring Lisa into his real life and that this one night might have all just been a feeling he will never recapture.
Anomalisa may feel like a strange movie because of the medium Kaufman chose to use to tell this story, but you quickly forget that you are watching stop-motion puppets. Co-directed with Duke Johnson, the animation is flawless and proves how much emotion animators can get out of figures. Kaufman’s story is so heartfelt that it makes it impossible to obsess over the process.
Kaufman has never been one to tell a straightforward story, especially with the acclaimed screenplays for Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation. to his name. But Anomalisa has a pretty straightforward plot, even as the DNA of Being John Malkovich runs through the entire picture.
Michael is another Kaufman character you don’t mind spending time with because so much of his pain and suffering is so real. Ironically, he writes books on how to deal with people, but he can’t even connect with those he knows. His ill-fated meeting with a former girlfriend is painful to watch, but it’s hard to imagine how anyone could have a successful meeting with someone we haven’t seen in decades. Kaufman may venture into the absurd occasionally in Anomalisa, but he never goes too far off the path of realistic storytelling.
Lisa is also just as important a character as Michael. Like Michael, she’s the only character not voiced by Tom Noonan, which instantly makes her different. It shows that, for Michael, everyone else in the world is just a blur until he meets Lisa. She is flawed, like Michael and the similarities between the two appear to be countless.
Kaufman’s voice has been gone from the screen for far too long and Anomalisa shows that he didn’t lose anything during his long hiatus. At once, the film is devastatingly simple and begging for ongoing study. Anomalisa itself might be an anomaly because of its medium, but it is really an exploration into humanity that few films with actual people ever accomplish.
Anomalisa was screened at the Savannah Film Festival, presented by the Savannah College of Art and Design. Paramount will be releasing it to theaters on Dec. 30.