Charlie Kaufman has quite the imagination. That is pretty clear in his movies "Being John Malkovich" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." He has quite the imagination as a filmmaker. But at the same time, he clearly has resound feelings when it comes to emotions, love, hate, and loss. I found "Being John Malkovich" and "Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" to be some of the best cinema of their respected years. Kaufman has profound control when has an idea and when he displays that control its quite bracing.
In "Anomalisa," Kaufman has completely outdone himself. Its a crowning achievement as far as stop-motion animation. But Kaufman's little treasure is more than just clever stop-motion. There is a powerful metaphor that smiles at the audience all movie long, and it wears its theme's on its sleeve. But that doesn't really mean there is nothing else to the movie. That doesn't mean that there is nothing else to feel. But as far as the animation goes, I can only imagine that it will give some other animated films this year a run for its money come awards season.
The movie is about Michael (voiced by David Thewlis), a man who travels across the country to give speeches about proper customer service. He has written many successful books about this subject. Michael also has a wife and son. But despite his family and his success, Michael is lonely. He is very, very lonely. He seems to find the whole world mundane, and sees the same face and hears the same voice by every person he sees. I mean that quite literally. Every supporting character and every background character in the movie has the same face design and they are all voiced by Tom Noonan. Sometimes that can kind of make the movie confusing as to who Michael is speaking to, but it is a wildly unique gimmick. Its also quite funny hearing Noonan's voice shift from man to woman to child. He keeps his same monotone, but the language he uses is superb and actually kind of charming.
Michael is drifting through life, on another one of countless trips, all seemingly identical to each other. Then he hears a voice, a voice that isn't Noonan. A voice that stands out from everybody else in Michael's orbit. This person's name is Lisa, and she is voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh. She's the only other character not voiced by Noonan, and that's the point. Michael doesn't feel anything from his marriage anymore, he can't really connect with people in his life because everybody feels the same to Michael. Then he meets Lisa and she completely changes his life, because she proves that not everything is the same, and that Michael is allowed to feel.
Yes, Michael is a bit of a low life. Its okay to think that. But even though the audience can't respect Michael, I bet just about anybody can at least identify with him. I have had moments in my life where I felt like nobody understood me, and that I was the only one in this world who would understand me. Sometimes, that can happen to people and these feelings are clearly crippling Michael. That changes with Lisa, and she is his anomaly. Hence the name of the movie.
"Anomalisa" is a beautiful movie, in both ideas and imagery. The voice talent by Thewlis, Noonan and especially Leigh is spot on. Yes, people complain when voice actors aren't providing their talents for movies like this, but I think these three actors have particular voices and they each knew how to pinpoint that talent here. Their voice work elevates the material here, and it is all overly engaging. I felt very revitalized by this movie. I was taken aback by its energy and color. My love for cinema was once again realized for me. Like many have already said, despite no humans in this movie, this is the most human movie all year. That in itself is something of an achievement.
FINAL GRADE: A