Anomalisa

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Anomalisa - 'A film that beautifully captures the clumsiness of human interactions'
"His - and Johnson's - real triumph in Anomalisa comes in the smaller gestures and human moments"

The eyes have it in Charlie Kaufman's latest examination of the human condition. They somehow manage to convey world weariness or bright expectation depending the moment. This is thanks to the animation by Duke Johnson, who recreates his characters in stop-motion, making them seem almost real in terms of mannerisms and anatomical detail but with an otherworldly, slightly fuzzy veneer. The uneasiness they generate is also down to the film's entire concept which means that, other than the central character Michael Stone, everyone else, no matter what their sex or hairdo, looks the same, their faces appearing almost like masks, with a clear join around the edges and across their eyeline.

Michael, in a typical Kaufman irony, is a customer service guru who espouses the virtue that "each customer is an individual" despite the fact that everyone, in addition to looking the same to him, has the same evenly modulated voice (Tom Noonan). Even before he starts telling people around him, we sense that Michael is "not well" in terms of his mental state. Michael is himself one of the anomalies of the title, a British ex-pat, voiced with a sort of Alan Bennett weariness by David Thewlis, not quite fitting in with his surroundings or family. He is, courtesy of his book How May I Help You Help Them?, guest speaker at a Cincinnati conference in a corporate hotel that could be any brand anywhere, its furnishings epitomising anodyne comfort.

Copy picture

We follow Michael over the course of one night, when he meets two fans Emily and Lisa, quickly discovering that Lisa is, well, different - both in look and voice (Jennifer Jason Leigh). His very own anomalisa. The concepts of all this are high enough to cause a nosebleed and the film is less engaging when Kaufman forces you to approach it on a cerebral level, particularly in a sequence in which Michael ends up in a confrontation with the hotel staff. Kaufman's scathing commentary on consumerism and corporate platitudes also feels like old ground for him with the musings on loneliness and isolation not quite reaching the, admittedly hard to beat, highs of Synecdoche, New York.

His - and Johnson's - real triumph in Anomalisa comes in the smaller gestures and human moments, from observational truths such as the fact that almost everyone nips to the loo as soon as they get to their hotel room, not uncommonly with the door open, to the shy fumblings of human connections that have been allowed to rust.

Lisa is a lovely creation. Timid and unable to believe that Michael would fancy her over her friend because "everyone always prefers Emily", she also has a better sense of self-worth than she thinks and which emerges over the course of the film. There is plenty of melancholy and one or two laugh out loud moments, but the film's overwhelming vibe is sweetly warm and humanistic, suggesting that even the briefest of human connections should not be dismissed out of hand.

Reviewed on: 23 Sep 2015
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Stop-motion tale of a man who struggles to connect with other people.
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Director: Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman

Writer: Charlie Kaufman

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Thewlis, Tom Noonan

Year: 2015

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


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