Anomalisa, 2015, USA
Directors: Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson
Stars: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh & Tom Noonan
"They're all one person and they love me. Everyone is one person but you and me. You're the only other person in the world."
The two most humane and moving films that I have seen in 2015 featured no actual human beings on screen. Both don hertzfeldt's 'World of Tomorrow' and Charlie Kaufman's 'Anomalisa' prove that genuine human emotions transcend physical capabilities.
For a little while, it seemed like Charlie Kaufman's directorial career would tragically go the way of Charles Laughton. He made a masterpiece back in 2008 with 'Synecdoche, New York', but the film was a bust at the box office, and the film itself was misunderstood, much like Laughton and his film 'Night of the Hunter'. Fortunately Kaufman, this time with co-director Duke Johnson, returns with this stop-motion animated film that has all the heart, all the absurdity and all the brilliance of Kaufman and his previous works.
Personally, Charlie Kaufman is my favorite screenwriter of all time. Whenever a film is released that features his involvement is an event for me, he never ever lets me down, providing incredibly thoughtful and unique screenplays one after another, and that is the case with 'Anomalisa'. The way in which Kaufman can so delicately craft such genuine characters is such a huge inspiration to me and absolute to witness. 'Anomalisa's script features Kaufman's usual brilliance and nuances, while also being a step in a simpler direction. While it has all the same heavy emotions, it isn't as high concept as his other screenplays. In this case, the film itself is high concept, in other cases, Kaufman's screenplay is.
Stop motion animation has always fascinated and amazed me. I can't even the imagine the patience that would go into such a project. 'Anomalisa' is an elite exercise in stop motion, providing absolutely stunning locations and objects as well as incredible articulation from the character models.
The central character of the film is Michael Stone, and he is one of the most wonderfully realized and fleshed out characters that I have encountered all year. Like Kaufman has done many times before, he proposes an intensive character study, on the level of Caden in 'Synechdoche' or Joel in 'Eternal Sunshine' and even "himself" in 'Adaptation'. What sets Michael apart from those characters is that he is literally a piece of clay, yet amazingly his story conveys all the brevity and weight of the aforementioned characters. Michael is a very flawed man who, while a brilliantly smart and relatively successful family man, is deeply depressed by the mundane and lifeless state of his existence. Everyone he encounters spouts similar small-talk and weightless conversations in the same tone (literally, every character that isn't the two leads is voiced by Tom Noonan), whether it be his son, wife, Ex-girlfriend or any random encounter, nobody sets off that spark for him of which he is in desperate search for, until he meets Lisa.
Lisa, voiced wonderfully by Jennifer Jason Leigh, is an equally enthralling and humane character. She too has her flaws, she is very deprecating and just has a generally low opinion of herself. Leigh is an immensely talented actress and her voice performance in this film brings so much to the character, even more so than Kaufman's screenplay has provided. Tom Noonan is so versatile that he makes his roles all but two characters in the film seem unique and different. It's also essential to have one actor voicing all these characters because it complements Michael's complacency of the sameness of the world.
This is much less a film critique than it is a gushing love letter to 'Anomalisa' and the work of Charlie Kaufman. There are just some filmmakers whose work just relates to you personally and who you can't do much but praise and proclaim your admiration for.
'Anomalisa' is a masterpiece, a big, bold, fresh, unique, messy, lovely, amazing and humane masterpiece. It can make you laugh, it can make you cry and it can make you look at life a little differently. 'Anomalisa' is most definitely an anomaly, it's one of a kind.