Movie Reviews

Movie Review: 'Anomalisa'

By Zaki JufriMovies - 19 February 2016 9:00 AM | Updated 24 February 2016

Movie Review: 'Anomalisa'

‘Anomalisa’ is a strange beast of a movie.

One. It is an animated movie. Or more precisely, one that is brought to life via stop-motion puppetry.

Second. It is written and co-directed by Charlie Kaufman. The guy who wrote oddball head-scratchers like ‘Adaptation’, ‘Being John Malkovich’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind’.

‘Anomalisa’ is, of course, no different. 

Absurd and cynical, the movie is your typical Kaufman meta-cinema. Based on the writer’s 2005 radio play of the same name, the story follows ageing motivational speaker Michael Stone (voiced by Michael Thewlis) as he struggles to find a true emotional connection.

In Stone’s eyes, everyone – including his wife and son – eerily looks and sound exactly alike: all having the same deadpan features of a young man (voiced by Tom Noonan). The irony of all this is that Stone’s urges customer service professionals to see everyone they meet as individuals in his speeches.

In the movie, he checks into The Fregoli Hotel for a customer service conference. Alone in his room, he mopes and gazes out the window, looking obviously restless. Married with two kids and a successful career, it seems that Stone is in an emotional funk. We don’t know why (or maybe it’s because everyone looks the same). So what does he do? He phones an old flame for a meet-up.

After the reunion goes south, he bumps into Lisa, another hotel guest in town for the same conference. Stone is smitten by her, maybe because she speaks with the voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh and stands apart from the horde of clones out there. She also happens to be Stone’s biggest fan.

“I think you’re extraordinary,” Stone whispers to her. When asked why, he says, “I don’t know. It’s just obvious to me that you are.” In his head, her uniqueness is the balm to his loneliness and desperation. The timid, untraveled and normal Lisa is an anomaly in Stone’s world – hence ‘Anomalisa’. 

As Stone fights for his sanity, he battles paranoia and surreal nightmares. What Stone is suffering is actually a real condition: the Fregoli delusion is defined as a rare disorder where a person holds a belief that many different people are actually one person who changes shape or uses disguises. 

As an animated feature, ‘Anomalisa’ is something special, transporting audiences to a miniature universe populated by realistically looking puppets built by Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson.

The effect is wonderfully surreal. Even the most mundane thing like making a phone call or lighting a cigarette is fascinating to watch. Such is the genius of Kaufman whose has a penchant for creating something stirring from the banal. All this is then amplified through the voice acting of Thewliss, Leigh and Noonan. Other interesting themes that recur in Kaufman’s works that also appear here are the ambiguity of identity, the search for self and mid-life crises. 

Even the sex scene (yes puppet sex!) is oddly affecting, more so than any live-action love scene we’ve seen.

By the end, ‘Anomalisa’ still refuses to be pegged in a square hole and defies any one interpretation imagined.

What it is though, is a brilliant story that tells us how we all suffer the same delusions as Stone – that we are all alone and alike, until that singular moment where we hear a different voice or see a new face that remind us that we are really individuals.

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