Review: “Anomalisa” is a Film Unlike Anything Ever Made Before

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When the final moments of Anomalisa concluded and the credits began, I honestly had no idea what to think.  There was an earth-shattering round of applause that filled the auditorium I was in, and the consensus of those around me was nothing but acclaim and love.  Even during the Q&A that occurred after the film with filmmakers Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, along with actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, I couldn’t help but feel hollow and unsure about not just the movie, but the world in general.  Even on the train ride back to my college dorm, this feeling of emptiness took prominence in my body while my mind just kept thinking about what the hell my eyes had just seen.  It took me a good night’s rest to finally conclude what my overall thoughts on the film were.  In short, I thought it was brilliant.  However, the term “brilliant” can’t even begin to describe how ingenious this stop-motion animated film is.

The film follows Michael Stone, a man who has achieved so much yet feels so out of place in the world he calls home. On a business trip to Cincinnati, Stone is set to speak in front of a group of customer service professionals in conjunction with the popularity of his book “How May I Help You Help Them?” Stone is unable to attach himself to anyone or anything during his one-night stay at the Fregoli Hotel as everything, to him, seems to be unsubstantial and mundane to him. All of this changes, though, when Michael hears a voice. This voice is vastly different and unique compared to anyone else in his world, so that could mean something. As it turns out, said voice belongs to a sales rep also staying at the Fregoli named Lisa. It’s entirely possible that Lisa and Michael are soulmates and meant for one another, but only time and their one night together can determine that.

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The first thing that really caught my attention was the way the characters in this world are designed. It’s hard to discuss really how the faces look without spoiling some of the film’s magic, but let’s just say that the design of the characters is entirely original and a pretty damn brilliant way of showing how Michael Stone sees his world. Something that can be discussed, on the other hand, is the use of the seams on the faces of each character. It’s a decision that I very much admire not just because of the obvious easiness of changing the mouth movements, but also as a way to remind us as an audience of how strange Stone’s world is. There are also some shots that consist of a single take that are both amazing in how consistent everything is and how gorgeous the movie looks.

It should be noted that there are only three actors in the entire film, and each vocal performance is brilliant. David Thewlis’ portrayal of Michael is one that has stern-like qualities along with tender and more vulnerable aspects to it. Thewlis managed to nail the craziness and flawed nature of this character to a tee and yet make him relatable and, for lack of a better term, human. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s work as Lisa is the heart and soul of the cast, and her performance as a whole is pretty much the polar opposite of her work in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. There’s so much purity in her performance, which adds to her loving nature and an overall sweetness that make us root for her and Stone to get together. The third actor in the film is Tom Noonan, and without spoiling anything about who he plays, I’ll just say that he’s also fantastic and hysterical in the movie as a whole. There may be only three voices in the film, but the way each of the voice actors are used is pure brilliance.

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The script that Charlie Kaufman has written here while possessing his familiar complicated nature of writing is probably his most straightforward piece to date. Having said that, it may also be his most complex. Not because things are hard to understand, like aspects of Synecdoche, New York, but because of the symbolic nature of a lot of stuff that happens in the film. Rather, it’s because of the things that happen in the movie that end up staying in your thoughts long after it ends. The film is hilarious, just like all of his other works, but it’s the thought-provoking nature of it all that takes residence in your mind. The third act, in particular, will be swirling around your head for at least a week after you see the movie. The fact that this film wasn’t nominated for Best Original Screenplay, to me at least, is an absolute crime and shame. Nobody else is making movies like this nowadays, and to me, an Oscar nomination for the screenplay would have been a testament to that. Then again, this isn’t a movie for everyone.

It’s totally understandable why somebody might be turned off by a film as obscure and out there as this one. Like I said, I had to think about this movie for a day before I decided what my overall thoughts were. Even if I ended up not liking this movie, it’s hard to deny how original and unique it is compared to other movies made these days. When someone says Inside Out is an original film, it’s more so just an original concept with familiar tropes thrown in. This is coming from someone who flat-out adored Inside Out when he first saw it.  Anomalisa’s overall synopsis is simplistic, but the actions the characters make, and the outcome of everything makes this more one-of-a-kind than anything else 2015 has to offer. I’m not going to go out and write about why I think Inside Out doesn’t deserve to win Best Animated Feature because I’m happy that unique films like that are being recognized. Still, I’d rather honor the vision of two unique and rare geniuses rather than those who have been honored multiple times before. In the off chance I haven’t made this remotely clear to you, Anomalisa is a brilliant movie. It’s funny, emotional, visually gorgeous, and unlike anything this world has seen before. Do yourself a favor and seek this one out as soon as humanly possible, as this movie will make you think about and feel things that you haven’t in a very long time.

 

Zachary Marsh with writer/director Charlie Kaufman and director Duke Johnson after an advance screening / discussion for Anomalisa

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