With “Anomalisa,” Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson have created a groundbreaking, fascinating and very adult animated feature. Kaufman’s dialogue and Johnson’s stop-motion animation work well together to tell the story of a man on the edge. It’s also a very human story with an inhuman aspect.
David Thewlis of “Harry Potter” fame lends his voice to Michael Stone, a customer service expert at a crossroads in his life. On a business trip to give a lecture, Stone desperately tries to make real human connections. Quite by accident, he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a young woman who awakens something in him and could set his life on a new course.
Overall, “Anomalisa” is beautifully written and constructed. Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay revisits some of the issues he raised in “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Kaufman’s dialogue makes it an engaging story that is sure to spark discussions as the final credits roll. It’s fun also to see animated characters in these very real and adult situations.
As the voice of minor celebrity Michael Stone, David Thewlis adds a world-weary quality to his character. Stone has achieved a degree of success in his chosen field, but his personal life is another matter entirely. Leaving his wife and son at home, Stone checks into his hotel room and immediately calls an old girlfriend.
From Stone’s point-of-view, everyone looks and sounds the same. There is no color or diversity or personality; everyone is quietly accommodating and pleasant. His encounter with Lisa, though, is something unique. She has her own voice and personality, a bright spot in a world that appears to be a sea of conformity.
As Lisa, Jennifer Jason Leigh delivers an amazing vocal performance. The actress, who received an Oscar nomination for her role in “The Hateful Eight,” portrays the young woman as lacking self-confidence in her intelligence and appearance. Yet, to Michael Stone, she is a real and fresh presence. These two people needed to find each other, but the results of their meeting are unexpected.
Kudos to Duke Johnson for his clever use of stop-motion animation. He doesn’t disguise the fact that each character in the film is a poseable doll, but that doesn’t detract from the story. In fact, knowing this unreal aspect propels the storyline written by Kaufman. The use of stop-motion also helps this film stand out amongst other animated features
“Anomalisa” has earned Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, but this ambitious piece faces stiff competition from the intriguing Pixar offering “Inside Out.” Still, the filmmakers deserve a hand for trying something new and different. Ultimately, being different is the message this film tries to convey.
“Anomalisa,” rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language, currently is playing in theaters.