With his latest musing on the human state and what it is to be alive, Charlie Kaufman (along with co-director Duke Johnson) has opted to tell his story through Stop-motion animation. It tells of Michael Stone (David Thewlis), a motivational speaker at business conferences, whose grasp of customer service has made him a kind of god figure in the corporate world. But Michael has lost interest with the world and everyone in it. So much so that (to his eyes) they all now carry the same face and speak with the same voice (the brilliant Tom Noonan).
Michael just wants love, to be loved, to find love, but in a faceless world in which he is pushing the self-destruct button ever more resolutely, the hope is fading and the loneliness becomes unbearable. So steps Lisa into his life, the first person with a unique face and individual voice (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) and Michael is instantly besotted, almost aggressively so. There is the chance for escape – so to speak – and he is willing to throw everything he has at this chance meeting.
Though it may seem like I’m giving large swathes of the story away, as with any Kaufman film the story beats themselves are not the focus of the piece. Instead we are hapless voyeurs into the vulnerability during a key moment in someone’s life. There is no glamour and nothing stylised about the setting or the dialogue, it is just real; painfully real.
I’ve often thought Kaufman to be the US counterpart to Mike Leigh, such is the storytelling eye in both men so perfectly honed on what makes us tick; doing so by walking us through the often banal everyday-ness of our lives, with the wit of an observational comedian and the wisdom of a philosopher. With Anomalisa, Kaufman more than ever resembles Leigh, in that the story is so intimately told, in small spaces whose claustrophobia adds to the atmosphere it evokes.
This isn’t a film that follows a three act structure, with traditional arcs and an ending wrapped up in a neat bow. Like its subject it is real, unending, sometimes oddly tinged with nothingness and peppered with the occasional rousing moment of realisation. It also features one of the most awkwardly real sex scenes in movie history; told with animated models.
If you’ve ever found yourself desperately lonely then Anomalisa is for you. If you’ve ever had an existential crisis, Anomalisa is for you. If you’ve ever wanted to shut the door and lock the world out to hide yourself from it and all the crappy mistakes you’ve made, Anomalisa is for you. In other words, if you’re a human being, Anomalisa is for you.