VIFF 2015—Filmmaker Charlie Kaufman is known for his misanthropic, usually mind-bending tragicomedies exploring the complexities of human nature and Anomalisa is no different. Here, he's written and co-directed an emotional stop-motion animated film following one lonely man's seemingly ordinary business trip. Co-directed by Community animator Duke Johnson, the film blends the natural absurdism of Kaufman's scripting with the gentle beauty of puppetry—a recurring Kaufman theme first seen in Being John Malkovich.
It's both simple and difficult to describe the story behind Anomalisa. Using very detailed, close up stop-motion puppetry and photography, we follow sad sack motivational speaker Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) mostly in and around his posh Cincinnati hotel, away from his joyless family, as he prepares to speak at a customer service conference. How Michael explores his loneliness and seeks accompaniment is both amusingly humorous and touchingly poignant just as the indignities of travel are heightened rather comically.
The animation is uniformly fantastic with moments of genuine beauty as gentle camera movements and stark lighting highlight the range of emotions of these elaborate puppets. As a way to further heighten Michael's lost nature, Tom Noonan voices all of the other static characters who also share a similar, flat appearance regardless of gender or age. This makes Michael's meeting with the titular anomaly of Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) all the more special. Their story together, genuine connection, and Michael's descent into self-destruction is made all the more haunting and affecting.
Kaufman and Johnson bring an inventive playfulness to the decidedly offbeat Anomalisa. The film is rich in thematic depth and grace in its heartbreaking subject matter. Paramount to all the cinematic workings in the film are its charm and sense of wonder as it captures its characters through fantastical portraits. Expressing the mundane and normal through stop-motion makes the film's concepts even more visually and narratively impressive.
Anomalisa screened at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.
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