Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Movie with Abe: Anomalisa

Directed by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman
Released December 30, 2015

Some animated films are not for children, and in those cases, there’s usually a good and interesting reason that the filmmakers chose to use animation to tell their stories. Past examples such as “A Scanner Darkly” and “Waltz with Bashir” come to mind, and it should strike no one as a surprise that master auteur Charlie Kaufman, known for “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” would turn to a new medium for his latest effort behind the camera, another mind-boggling, intriguing look at life that raises many questions and answers few of them.

“Anomalisa” tells its story using computer-animated puppets. Michael Stone (David Thewlis) lands in Cincinnati, in town for just a night so that he can deliver a speech to a convention of customer service employees the next day. As he takes a cab to his hotel and interacts with the concierge and the bellboy, it becomes obvious that Michael is hearing the same voice (provided by Tom Noonan) whenever anyone talks to him. His wife and his son at home and an old flame who comes to meet him at the hotel all sound the same too. But when he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an eager woman in town to hear him speak, she sounds different, and his whole world is changed by the opportunity to experience something unique and original with this magical new person.

To say that “Anomalisa” is not a film for children is an understatement, as there is just as much, if not more, nudity in this film as there was in “Team America: World Police.” Yet things are much more serious here, and utilizing animation to showcase a transformative one-night stand is enormously powerful and effective. At first, it’s uncomfortable, but not having real people in the scene makes it all the more emphatic. It’s just as strange an experience as can be expected from Kaufman, who stepped behind the camera for the first time to direct “Synecdoche, New York,” with the existence of its universe relatively unexplained and certain hints at it not being real dropped over the course of the film without any true resolution. Noonan and Leigh do a marvelous job of voicing their characters, so lively and monotone, respectively, contrasting with Thewlis’ British accent as the protagonist of the film. For much of its ninety minutes, “Anomalisa” is a magnificently captivating film, and it ends on an uncertain, unfulfilling note that is sure to haunt its audience but fails to provide a firm and proper finish, even for Kaufman.


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