Review: Anomalisa (2015)




Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson


Charlie Kaufman (Play by Charlie Kaufman)


90 min.


David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan

MPAA Rating

R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language

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If you ever questioned how twisted the mind of Charlie Kaufman was, take one look at his stop-motion animated feature Anomalisa and you’ll get it.

Starring the voices of David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan in multiples, Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson have meticulously crafted a compelling feature about the mundanity of life and the need to find something different.

Thewlis voices Michael Stone, a motivational writer and speaker whose insights into customer service have garnered him fame and attention. Arriving at a speaking engagement in Cincinnati, Stone tries desperately to seek out companionship that will get him away from his lackluster home life in this far-away city. After a meeting with an ex-lover doesn’t pan out, his night is turned upside down when he hears the lovely and distinctive voice of a young woman, Lisa Hesselman, who provides him with a unique outlook on life. An outlook that might never last, as most one-night stands often don’t.

Kaufman is accustomed to jarring his audience with strange stories, unusual situations, and a frankness that belies his depravity. This animated feature is not appropriate for children, its adult humor, language, and sexual encounters push it right into the adults-only arena where it really needs to be.

Like Richard Linklater tried with A Scanner Darkly, Kaufman wants to use the animated medium to explore areas of life and love that aren’t always easily accessible or straight forward. Could this have been done with live actors? Yes, but some of its impact would have been muted.

With the exception of Thewlis and Leigh, all of the voices tend to blend together in the audience’s minds. The viewer isn’t going crazy. Noonan literally voices everyone else in the film, both men and women. It is initially disconcerting, but it has a point that won’t fully realize itself until Leigh’s character arrives.

Being John Malkovich proved a tremendous breakthrough for Kaufman who continued in the writing capacity for his next three films, all of which were bizarre in their own unique ways. Adaptation. and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are notable features alongside the sublime Malkovich. It was for Michel Gondry’s film Eternal Sunshine that Kaufman won his first and to-date only Oscar for.

Since then, his big screen adventures have been under his own direction, trusting his screenplays to no one else. This approach has proven intermittently successful with Anomalisa his best directorial effort so far. It’s a film that needs to be seen to be understood. For some, it might require multiple viewings to fully grasp, but with an attentive and suitably twisted mind, comprehension will be its own reward.

Review Written

August 31, 2020

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