Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Starring David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan
A man crippled by the mundanity of his life experiences something out of the ordinary.
Chew on this: the two most emotional films of 2015 are Anomalisa and Inside Out; both animated features that are more than just a story created for entertainment purposes.
The first 15 minutes of Anomalisa are pretty boring. Intentionally boring, mind you, yet somehow, wholly captivating. And the answer for said captivation isn’t because of the stop-motion animation utilizing plastic puppets, but rather how soul-crushingly and depressingly realistic everything transpiring on-screen feels; Anomalisa is mandatory viewing for everyone, and a quintessential masterpiece capable of mentally breaking into tears anyone suffering from depression, a midlife crisis, the disturbingly ill feeling that sexual lust is the only action that can fill the void of a mundane life disallowing one to emotionally resonate with society, or someone suffering from loneliness in the purest form. In many ways, Anomalisa will alter the lives of these people as a cathartic experience.
Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson (while I’m not familiar with Johnson, Kaufman has been responsible for some of the most downright creative concoctions in the history of cinema, ranging from Adaptation to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), the Kickstarter backed production having used animated methods isn’t solely an excuse for budgetary restraints. It’s actually a decision that blissfully coexists with this father yet lonely and depressed customer service specialist named Michael Stone (David Thewlis), who visually and audibly finds every other single soul the same. Additionally, much credit must go to Tom Noonan for pulling off the incredible feat of giving so many characters, male and female, the same one-note voice pitch while simultaneously inserting quirks to each one, the concept works poetically in beautifully heartbreaking fashion.
To give away details of Anomalisa‘s plot though would be of a great disservice to the viewer, as it is really something that should just be absorbed, so let it be known that this movie will be discussed for ages. The loneliness in Michael’s puppet eyes and facial expressions is hauntingly unforgettable; he’s not the most likable protagonist ever, but contains numerous empathetic qualities. For the duration of the film you just want to continuously deconstruct the psychological thoughts of this man and sort of piece them altogether into something that makes sense. You probably won’t, and probably can’t; it’s too complex, but ultimately fascinating.
Likewise, Lisa (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) elicits a similar range of empathy. She’s insecure to extremist levels regarding her visible facial scarring, intelligence, and talents, but will steal your heart from her introduction. The isolated hotel room scene between Michael and Lisa is a lot of things; it’s awkwardly filled with subtext that Michael is really just courting a woman for sexual intercourse (as it very well may be the only experience able to make him feel alive anymore), underlined with that old saying of there being someone out there for everyone.
You’re not sure if you should look away creeped out or succumb to the romance, which culminates with puppet sex not shying away from graphic nudity. Yeah, I know that sounds like a scene ripe with potential to make audiences erupt with laughter, but as with all of the animation on display here, the movements are meticulously crafted, with the scene presented appropriate in tone to make the proceedings come across emotionally arresting.
Even the performances by the ridiculously small cast of three (David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan) go above and beyond in making each individual character feel real. Without the right performance, Michael doesn’t come across empathetic, and neither does Lisa cutesy and charming despite her non-existent self-esteem. The entire meaning of Anomalisa doesn’t work without these turns that are absolutely Oscar-worthy, and will hopefully spark a discussion on treating animated film and the work that goes into their productions with more respect and on equal ground with live-action works.
Lisa singing two different renditions of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (with one version being in Italian) is one of the greatest cinematic achievements of the year. Then again, I could apply that same statement to so many other scenes. Anomalisa is a 90 minute film that wastes no second; literally everything serves a thematic purpose and engages on multiple wavelengths.
There’s also quite a bit of welcome twisted humor peppered throughout the film, most notably with the featured hotel being labeled as the Fregoli, which is actually a mental disease where someone thinks that the entire world is actually the same person in cahoots to thwart that person’s life at every possible turn. Stops at sex shops and random conversations with cab-drivers help. Of course, much of this is also used in a greater context that is all part of one really big picture that will take plenty of viewings to fully dissect and interpret.
Still, Anomalisa does contain a rather straightforward narrative that is easy enough for everyone to follow along. Not that that necessarily matters, but seeing as I would argue that this film is important (and not in the way that Oscar-bait biography films are important just based on their historical richness alone), it’s worth noting. An animated existential drama with puppets surprisingly cuts through to the heart more than most films in existence.
Yes, it’s now 2016, but Anomalisa is the best film of 2015. Don’t let it slip under the radar just because you’re shifting focus to the new year. I’d even go one step further and outright call it one of the best films ever made.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★