There comes a moment in “Anomalisa,” from co-directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, where you stop fighting the need to try to understand the weird yet invigorating story structure, and surrender to all the quirks, charm, and emotional tension its displaying on screen. Hypnotizing in the words and expressions of its stop-motion characters, Kaufman’s screenplay is right up there with his top-tier works of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Being John Malkovich.” If anything, it’s as if Kaufman merged his brilliant writing style with the works of Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze, delivering a newly interpreted work that shows itself as one of the year’s gargantuan masterpieces in writing.
The less you know, the better. Watching the recent trailer that dropped for the film did it no favors as it presented itself as the animated version of “Lost in Translation” when its anything but. Simply put, it focuses on a man named Michael Stone, who has made a career about stressing the importance of customer service. When he takes a one day trip to Cincinnati, he begins to focus on the mundanity of his life.
I’ve banged this drum too often, with some help from notable critics and viewers, but voice work has to be looked upon as a genuine performance, and you’ll find just another example of it with the outstanding works of David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan. Thewlis’ Michael Stone is intricate and calculated with a real sense of disparity and hopelessness. He envelops the essence of a lost man, attempting to regain normality in a world where everything is far too familiar and similar. Jennifer Jason Leigh captures the essence of innocence and perplexity, as her Lisa tries to make sense of a situation that can either be interpreted as fate or coincidence. Visibly broken, and aching to be put back together, Leigh enriches the morose yet intriguing nature of the film with zeal. It’s one of her best performances and one you can look back upon it as another staggering performance from a voice-actor. Tom Noonan wears so many hats in “Anomalisa,” a chameleon transcending the inner workings of a broken man. It’s a breathtaking performance, one not obvious at first, but eventually opens up in the most awkward but satisfying manner.
When walking into Kaufman and Johnson’s world, one of the first questions you have to ask is why stop motion? Does this have the opportunity to be interpreted in different mediums that could be more satisfying and accessible for the viewer? It’s a perfect marriage of narrative structure and story. As an adult animation drama, you can see the freakish elements of films like “Fantastic Mr. Fox” but it is in no way for children. This speaks to the minds of adults. If you have ever struggled with depression, or have been stuck in the abnormality of a current state of living, the film may hit some very real chords with you.
“Anomalisa” is an astounding achievement on every level. Exquisite and ravishing animation is on full display, using divine, subtle tones of color to capture the mood of a world all too distant but so uncomfortably close. It’s single-handedly one of the best films that 2015 has to offer. Don’t deny yourself this experience.
“Anomalisa” opens in theaters on December 30 and is distributed by Paramount Pictures.