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Friday, June 17, 2016


Charlie Kaufman is so distinct a filmmaker that entering the world of one of his movies is like going down the proverbial rabbit hole. In Anomalisa, that effect is squared, because it is a stop-motion animated film with puppets. But it is not kid stuff.

As is his wont, Kaufman has crafted a tale about a sad sack (think of Nicolas Cage in Adaptation, Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Philip Seymore Hoffman in Synecdoche, New York), a customer service expert voiced by David Thewlis. He is in Cincinnati for the night, to give a speech the next day. He is distanced from all of the people around him, in fact they all look the same to him and have the same voice (literally, all voices are done by Tom Noonan).

He calls up an old girlfriend, and they have a disastrous meeting. He is in the shower when he hears a voice that is not the same as everyone else's. He pounds on hotel doors until he finds it--it's Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa. She's a rather dowdy woman but Thewlis is so enraptured by her voice that he sweeps her off her feet. They have an intimate night together and he's ready to leave his wife when Leigh starts to blend in with everyone else.

I was interested to read that Kaufman got an inspiration for the film from a disorder called the Fregoli delusion, in which people think that all other people are the same person (in an in-joke, the name of the hotel where Thewlis stays is called the Fregoli). In a rather obvious move, Kaufman makes a man who can't tell people apart an expert on customer service, in which the ideal is to treat each person as an individual.

The stop-motion technique, directed by Duke Johnson, is weirdly off-putting. Each puppet has a line through their temple that makes them all look they are wearing glasses. It is also very strange to watch two puppets have sex (including cunnilingus).

Anomalisa is intriguing, but also sharply depressing. The main character clearly has a pyschological problem--when he finally gives his speech he has a breakdown, and it's one of those "watch through your fingers" moments. By the end I'd kind of abandoned any hope of rooting for him--does a man really fall in love with a woman in one night and then criticize her at breafast for talking with her mouth full? Leigh's character is also a sad sack--she has a facial scar she hides with her hair and hadn't had a love affair in eight years. That these characters are denied any happiness at the end seems too cruel.

I'm glad I saw Anomalisa, but I wouldn't want to watch it again.

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