Famous author of customer service manuals Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis) arrives in Cincinnati for a sold-out stage appearance. Checking into the Fregoli Hotel, he awkwardly attempts to reconnect with a past flame before unexpectedly meeting Lisa (voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh), a young woman attending his seminar whom he finds to be utterly unique.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Superficially simple, Anomalisa is actually a thoroughly complex web of human experience, recognisably real, even though the characters are 30 cm tall stop motion puppets. Quite apart from the technically creative execution of the film (which took three years of intricate labour), with the endlessly subtle facial expressions and lifelike eyes of the 'stars', the film succeeds in its intense exploration of the question: what is human? It does this through Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis) whose name suggests a resistance to genuine feelings - which he battles on a daily basis.
Stone is a famous author of manuals on customer service, a 'how to' guide to personal connectivity, which, ironically, Stone himself strives but fails to achieve. We meet him on the plane, seated next to a young man who is a nervous flyer, in one of the film's gently funniest scenes. Here, Stone is at his least sociable, most taciturn, almost reclusive, and follow him on his way to the conference in Cincinnati, where he makes a one night stand - in both professional and intimately personal terms.
It is hard to imagine with stop motion puppetry, but the seduction scene in room 1007 of the Fregoli Hotel is one of the film's wonders. The Fregoli delusion is when you believe everyone in the world is the same person, in disguise - for Kaufman it's a metaphor for someone who cannot connect with others. Fregoli was the name Charlie Kaufman first used when writing this as a play.)
Charlie Kaufman delves into the psyche better than almost any other filmmaker (eg Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and with Anomalisa he inspects the loneliness of a tortured man who sees the world around him as robotic, people homogenous, life drained of excitement ... until he meets Lisa, whose facial disfigurement strikes him to the core. Not with pity - with love. She is real. Kaufman propels his theme by having Tom Noonan voice all the other characters, male and female, who pop up in the film, using Jennifer Jason Leigh's voice for Lisa as the marker of true humanity. She is unique. To Stone, that's an anomaly ... It's a clever and effective device - and takes a moment to recognise and adjust to.
The emotional core of the film is beautifully balanced against a banality that is tangibly authentic: Stone, an Englishman by birth (explains having Thewlis as voice actor), displays all the frailties and foibles of a man stumbling through his life. He may be famous, but he's also afraid and clueless.
Anomalisa is a character study, perhaps, but the character is symbolic of us all. Unsure and unbalanced, Stone confronts the problem of being human in an all too recognisable way.
Carter Burwell contributes with a subtle score and the detailed production design is just wonderful. It's hard to imagine the origins of the film as a stage play, presented like a radio play. It has been visualised a treat.
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VOICES: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
PRODUCER: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson, Dino Stamatopoulos, Rosa Tran
DIRECTOR: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
SCRIPT: Charlie Kaufman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Joe Passarelli
EDITOR: Garret Elkins
MUSIC: Carter Burwell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Joyce, Huy Vu
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 4, 2016