When I hear the words "Animated Feature", I instantly think of such keywords as, "Disney, Pixar, cute, fun, family-oriented", etc. However, that is not the case with Charlie Kaufman's new film, Anomalisa. This very adult oriented film plays to the heart and emotions of individuals who know what it's like to love and be loved, what madness life can truly be at times, and the pressure felt to feel alive and free.
From the opening frame, Anomalisa immerses us into the lackadaisical world of Michael Stone, a writer and motivational speaker, voiced by veteran actor David Thewlis. For Michael, everything in his life reeks of mundanity , from his job, to his marriage, to his travels, nothing excites him anymore; he feels bored with himself and with everything around him. The night before he is set to speak at a local conference, he runs into Lisa, ( voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh); a kind, shy, girl with a distinct voice, who also happens to be a big fan of Michael and his work.
The two spend the night in Michael's hotel room, talking over drinks and Michael tells Lisa about how hollow he feels and how, until he met her, he had felt alone. Over the course of the night the two fall in love, each one fulfilling a need within the other, until the next morning when they begin to make plans to leave their current situations behind and move forward with their life together. Over breakfast, Michael begins to become annoyed with Lisa and the commonality that has already begun to slip into their relationship and he becomes frustrated that his "fix" is wearing off. Following an embarrassing breakdown during his presentation, Michael heads back home to his family and settles back into mediocrity, waiting for the next high to find and resuscitate him.
In a recent interview with NPR, Directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson were asked why they chose stop-motion animation as the medium to bring their script to life:
"We think that it allows people to focus and pay attention to things that are mundane in a way that they might not be able to in live action. You know that everything that you see has been calculated and choreographed, that there's no accident, that if he drums his fingers against his thigh, that was a choice that we made as filmmakers, and it becomes kind of fascinating because of that."
This painstaking approach paid off for them in the end. From the slow turn of a head, the nervous hair movement, all the way down to the crinkle of the bed sheets when they first sit down, this movie is laden with intentionality, a trademark that heightens the underlying emotions that pervade the script. The idea of an inanimate object experiencing what it means to feel alive somehow drives home what it really means to be human; what it means to be a part of the emotional rollercoaster that is life.
Was Anamolisa one of my favorite films this year? No, but I did enjoy it. There were moments that the dialogue lagged, or the premise became bogged down with its mundanity. Walking away from Anomalisa, you, like myself, may not feel like you witnessed something grand or monumental. But maybe that's not a bad thing. Had the directors filmed this script in live-action, I wonder if it would resonate as strongly as it does. This film's strength lies in its ability to relate life through subtle, yet profound ways. It pulls you into a world made of cardboard and clay, and you feel right at home. Leaving the film, you can't help but feel invested in the lives of two animated characters; rooting for them, hurting with them, and ultimately finding your own emotions intertwined with theirs. This is a film to be celebrated, not just for it's technical achievements, but also for it's undeniable grasp on humanity. This is, Anomalisa.