Everyone’s favourite writer of wacky, tongue-in-cheek yet heart-on-sleeve dramedies Charlie Kaufman returns with more of that painfully irresistible quirky and awkward emotional turmoil by crafting little people out of clay and taking thousands of pictures of them.
Unlike Aaron Sorkin may as well have done with his ridiculous Steve Jobs, Kaufman steps up once again to direct his own script (the last instance of this in a cinema release being his universally acclaimed Synecdoche, New York) and creates a plasticine dream; a story of a man, voiced by English treasure David Thewlis (Naked, Harry Potter series) struggling with the monotonies of life.
Michael Stone (Thewlis) is flown to Cincinnati where he stays in a posh hotel for a night to do a job the following day. At the outset he’s a similar character to Bill Murray’s in the beloved Lost in Translation; wry, coy and other 3 letter words that suggest his bored, sarcastic acceptance of the ignorance of others. The majority of the story is set in this bog-standard up-market hotel between the bars, hallways and bedrooms many of us have seen many times in just as many different locations. In fact, Stone’s customer service background has probably propagated this desire everyone feels to maintain the hotel to this standard through personal service and provision of facilities – Stone can see it all around him in the hotel, but also at home in his own family and we rapidly see his lust for life gasping for air beneath his smoothly modelled edges.
The way in which the film visualises this is enchanting and scary simultaneously and though it’s probably deducible by the 3 actor cast and definitely not the first time loneliness like this has been portrayed in such a way it’s still incredibly striking. What’s just as striking is the meticulous realism of the stop-motion models, excellent work by Starburn Industries and Paramount Animation throughout that will likely earn the film an Oscar nod. I’ve never seen the male and female paunch and love handles; our involuntary twitches or drunken sex so charmingly constructed in such a way as in Anomalisa. Co-Director Duke Johnson’s expertise in the art-form married with Kaufman’s deep knowledge of storyboarding to achieve certain effects is truly a marvel to witness in a similar way to how Kaufman’s themes coupled wonderfully with Gondry’s headiness in Eternal Sunshine.
I really liked that Kaufman clearly restrained himself with how the story could play out within its universe though with many of the poster’s quoting “This film changed my life”, ”Most human film in decades” etc. maybe I’m missing something. My favourite film (as I’ve likely mentioned before) of the last few years is Spike Jonze’s Her because it did much the same – some might argue its ending is excessive but for me it didn’t break any rules and the same applies here. “Treat every customer as your friend”, Stone repeats the most overused mantra of the business world and I was left thinking, “if that’s the case, won’t I start to hate my friends if I hated my job?” among other wandering ideas about the fickleness of the society that Stone harbours, consequently, would I put my anomaly on a pedestal like he did?
Jeez… Call me Sum 41 “cos I’m in too deep”. That’s right, like this review, Anomalisa does fight to be entertaining and steers juuuuust on the right side of seriousness so that the film feels like a film and not a mental health PSA. That being said, Anomalisa is without doubt in last place in terms of innovative story-telling and generally how long it stayed in my mind behind the other big 4 Kaufman’s I’ve seen.
8 clay penises out of 10.