A man on a business trip meets an impossible woman called Lisa.
The first thing you need to know about Anomalisa is that it’s the latest film from the mind of Charlie Kaufman. The second thing is that it is a truly wonderful piece of cinema.
These two pieces of information go hand in hand because Kaufman has been involved in some of the most unique films in recent years. As a writer on Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and the masterful Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he first tried his hand at directing with 2008s Synecdoche, New York.
If, like me, you were thrown by the extravagant weirdness of Synecdoche you’ll be pleased to hear that Anomalisa is a smaller and more intimate film, though still full of emotion and humanity despite its tiny scale.
In fact the entire cast is made up of only three people, and at that just their voices – with everything else brought to life using stunning stop motion animation. This choice of medium helps to really set the film apart from everything else out there, while also keying in on some of Kaufman’s major themes and formal elements.
Our lead character is Michael Stone, voiced by David Thewlis, and he lives in a world where human interaction has become rote, a sea of similar faces with no defining characteristics. Kaufman and co-director/animation specialist Duke Johnson bring this to life by portraying every other person on screen with the same 3D printed face, a rough-edged mockery of human features which beautifully illustrates Michael’s world view.
The film goes further by giving every person apart from Michael the same voice, from character actor Tom Noonan. He changes his tone for different genders and ages but his voice is so distinctive that it remains instantly recognisable and reinforces the isolation – that is until another sound enters this miasma, the voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh as the Lisa of the title.
The idea of feeling utterly alone in the universe and finding another person to connect with is a powerful one, and it’s the driving force of the film – which was adapted from Kaufman’s own stageplay and retains the same premise and cast.
It’s the stop motion that’s the real masterstroke here, with the tiny mundane details of everyday life painstakingly recreated. The format itself is incredibly complex and time consuming, and more suited to outlandish fantasies like Coraline or The Nightmare Before Christmas. Which is what makes it perfect for recreating bland hotel rooms, phone conversations and intimate fumblings between two damaged people.
Anomalisa is a deep and emotional drama with a multitude of powerful themes and a narrative which goes to intense places, especially in its second half. It’s an utterly compelling experience and a filmmaking triumph, complete with the most intricate use of stop motion animation in living memory. Essential viewing.