Anomalisa is the Oscar-nominated first step into the world of animation for Charlie Kaufman, the writer of such films as Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich. Kaufman co-directs with Duke Johnson, the stop-motion specialist know for Adult Swim's Moral Orel and the animated Christmas special of Community. With such a pedigree behind it, this was always going to be an animated film like no other.
The story centres on English Ex-pat Michael Stone, an author and motivational speaker who flies in to speak at a conference. In the midst of an existential crisis, he meets and becomes infatuated with a Lisa, a woman who he believes may prove to be his salvation.
From a purely technical point of view, Anomalisa is a masterpiece. The filmmakers have opted for a much more realistic look than is typical in stop-motion. The models are virtually photo-realistic and the animation incredibly fluid. So much so that this actually skirts around the edge of the uncanny valley- which might be a first for the stop-motion medium. Yet, the animation avoids this by actively drawing attention to itself, by allowing the lines for the face plates on the puppets to be visible. Much of the audience may not even be aware what the lines are, but it has the effect of making them constantly aware that they are watching something artificial. Suffice to say that the small but vocal group of viewers who profess to find stop-motion in any form creepy are not going to have their minds changed here.
Despite revelling in it's artificiality the film has a very realistic and down-to earth feel and muted colour palette . With it's locations of hotel rooms and dingy corridors and conference rooms, this feels very much like the world we know. Uninterested in the limitless potential worlds of animation, this -the occasional flourish aside- often feels like it did not need to be animated at all.
The film's realism feeds into the sex scene, which perhaps inevitably has attracted a lot of discussion. A long way from glamorised Hollywood love-making you may be used to on screen, with it's natural bodytypes and earthy feel, it gives us one of the most natural, believable depictions of love seen of screen for some time. It might provoke a few sniggers from those who find the very sight of a pair of puppets at it hilarious, but it's played effectively straight. Team America this is not.
This is very much an adult film in the truest sense. Aside from one brief accidental trip to a sex shop, the humour and drama here are low key and this avoids the low-brow material others feel are necessary to make a R-rated/15 certificate movie.
All of this is without yet discussing the film's central conceit. It has a unique high-concept idea at it's heart that is very Charlie Kaufman. So if you want to go in completely cold, now would be a good time to stop reading.
Anomalisa features only three voice actors. Michael is voiced by David Thewlis, and Lisa by Jennifer Jason Leigh- both on top form. Every other character however is voiced by Tom Noonan. Seen through Stone's eyes, the world is full of people with the same uniform face and the same uniform voice.
The condition of believing that everyone else in the world is one person in disguise is very real and known as the Fregoli Delusion.-Fregoli also happens to be the name of the Hotel in the film. Every character we see or hear speaks with the same, somewhat monotonous tone. This provides some of the film's funniest moments, as it applies equally to characters depending on sex or age. Noonan even provides the vocals to any songs in the onscreen world. It's only when meeting Lisa that he hears another voice for the very first time- and it's this that draws him to her in the first place.
The audio is always important in animation, but here it is more vital than ever. This largely comes from the fact that this started life as a script for an audio play that was then adapted into animation.
If you've seen earlier live-action films written or directed by Kaufman then you'll find this to be very much in keeping with his earlier work. Here his ingenious concept married with Johnson's astonishing artistry creates something entirely new, however.
Kaufman's writing is fiercely intelligent and original, but can lack somewhat in human warmth. As a result, it's hard not to feel a sense of detachment, but considering the nature of the plot, in this case that may be deliberate. Stone is also not the easiest character to warm to, and his infidelity doesn't help matters in this regard. Nonetheless, a winning performance from Thewlis manages to make him more likeable than perhaps he deserves.
Anomalisa may ultimately be a film that proves easier to admire than to love, but it is unquestionably a stunning achievement. This is a singular piece of work and something anyone with a serious interest in animation needs to see as soon as they can.
ANOMALISA is now showing in Cinemas in the UK via CURZON ARTIFICIAL EYE and will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the US in May. preorder here.