R | 1h 30min | Animation, Comedy, Drama
Review - Matt Mungle
**In select theaters January 15th 2016**
Synopsis: A man crippled by his mundane life experiences something out of the ordinary.
Review: If ever there was an anomaly in the movie realm it would be the stop motion animated film from Charlie Kaufman, ANOMALISA. It is vastly complex in its simplicity. Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson strip away any sort of pretense and white noise to deliver a stunningly moving and touching story. The use of this medium is genius in that it gives them the ability to navigate what the main character is going through in a way that live action movie making could never do.
Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is a popular author in the realm of Customer Service training. He spends his days traveling to seminars to teach and instruct others in the field of customer relations. This in its self is a paradox since Michael is unable to interact with others on any sort of deep level. He is void of emotion and nothing stirs him to excitement. He is a shell of a man walking numbly through life. Michael is on a routine business trip when he hears the voice of a stranger. It is a voice that moves him and awakens every one of his senses. That is when he meets Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh).
The audience is instantly able to relate and comprehend what Stone is going through due to the brilliant decision of the filmmakers to use the same voice (Tom Noonan) for every character other than the two main leads. At first it is a bit unsettling and confusing. But it takes no time for your brain to catch the rhythm and grasp the concept. Everything in Michael's world is stagnant. His wife, co-workers, strangers he meets; they are all a monotonous repetition of the same. Nothing moves him. Nothing causes him to react. Having all of these voices sound the same, regardless of gender, immediately pulls you into his world. You sense how he feels and are saddened by the reality of how he goes about each day.
There is an elevated level of excitement when we hear Lisa's voice at the same time Michael does. We have been in his head and feeling the staleness. So to hear another voice stirs the audience. We perk up too. Few films have ever captured a character like this. We can watch and witness and feel in other movies. But this one adds an element that grabs the soul uniquely. We seldom stop and think about how much the human voice plays into our recognition and interaction.
Anyone who has studied or watched the art of stop animation knows how painstakingly tedious it is. Normally we see it with family films, funny animal antics, and adaptations of stories much lighter and fanciful. It is one thing to make a sheep dance around. But to manipulate the pieces in order to display dramatic, human emotion is on another level all together. And again the filmmakers do it with such subtlety and minimalism. Nothing is wasted nor are there any frivolous extras. Each still frame is like an elaborate portrait. The lighting gives dimension and depth so that the colors pop and the characters become scarily lifelike. Hands down the most beautiful film ever made in this fashion.
But looks aren't everything. This one has a wonderfully written story and dramatic nature that rivals most live action flicks. You will get so wrapped up and lost in the dialogue and events that it is easy to forget that what you are seeing is puppetry. It is based on an original play written by Kaufman and the transition to the world of animation seems a perfect fit.
ANOMALISA is rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language. The first two items are contained in one set of scenes and the language is never gratuitous or vulgar. Most comes from Michael's anger and frustration at the way his life is. So nothing is salacious or gratuitous. But it is a very adult film both in content and themes. I give it 4.5 out of 5 wake up calls. It is a film that will stay with you for some time. It is a brilliantly crafted story that is emotional and sobering.