Nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 88th Annual Academy Awards
While everyone was waiting for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, I was waiting for this. From the genius mind of Charlie Kaufman, the writer/director of the brilliant “Synecdoche, New York”, and the multiple award-winning screenwriter of “Being John Malkovich”, “Adaptation” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, comes his latest masterpiece. “Anomalisa” is a stop-motion animated film using puppets, and has been co-directed by Duke Johnson (a specialist in this type of animation). And one thing Mr. Kaufman continues here, is something that he never fails to succeed at, which is to affect me emotionally. I don’t believe I’ve been more devastated by a film this year. Charlie Kaufman is an expert at this–his puppets are the most realistically human characters in 2015 film.
Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is a celebrated self-help author on a promotional book tour. Immediately, we are aware of his unhappiness, even though he appears to live comfortably, has a devoted following for his books, and is husband to a dedicated wife and father to an adorable little boy. But Michael finds his existence mundane and repetitive. In fact, it’s progressed to the point where everyone, family included, speaks as if they have the exact SAME VOICE (Tom Noonan, voicing all but TWO characters). His kid, his spouse, the taxi driver at the airport, the old flame named Bella, who he meets for a drink. They all sound identical–and their faces are sort of alike too. Then, at the hotel where he’s staying, he hears insecure fan Lisa (the marvelous Jennifer Jason Leigh) speaking. She sounds completely unique, as well as sporting an unusual look (including a facial scar). Instantly smitten with this anomaly named Lisa (A-HA!), Michael spends a passionate night with her, and then proposes that they run away together. She accepts. But then a startling change occurs that threatens to thwart those plans.
I’m astounded by Mr. Kaufman being able to mine such emotion, without the visual use of human actors. He picked three very accomplished ones to supply his dialogue, but forgive me if I give a solid portion of the credit to the lone female performance–that of Jennifer Jason Leigh. On record as adoring her, I could be guilty of some bias. But, on the other hand…I’m not so sure. Ms. Leigh, after decades of ignored, deserving work, has garnered her first Oscar nomination this year, for her supporting performance in Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”. And “Anomalisa” is the first R-rated film ever to be nominated for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award. I don’t believe JJL’s work can be discounted here. She brings a humanity, and a vulnerability, to Lisa, that is as real as it is heartbreaking. And she croons the most haunting version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” that you will ever experience. It’s incredible…I promise you. What a year she’s having. At 54-years-old (after her birthday earlier this month), everything old is new again.
Don’t be fooled by this film’s technique and style–“Anomalisa” is NOT a kid’s movie. I state this because I’m consistently amazed by folks who do little, or no, research into what they attend. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson fantastically pull off a scene of his puppets making love. I thought he was capable, but I actually had to see it to believe. And it’s a tender and honest love scene, as well. Damn–these guys are good. “Anomalisa” is going to lose the Oscar to Disney Pixar’s “Inside Out”. And that’s not a horrible choice. But I know CK’s movie is better. And I would even mount an argument for the Brazilian, “Boy & the World”. But Disney is safe, and maybe the Academy isn’t totally ready yet for puppet copulation. Don’t make the same mistake. “Anomalisa” is sexually-charged, deadly serious, and one of my absolute favorite films of 2015. It’s simply great.
next review up: “Legend”