Anomalisa online movie review - Kaufmann turns neurosis into farce in this occasionally clever but decidedly lightweight stop action animation quirk-fest
Charlie Kaufmann, principally known for Being John Malklovich and Adapation, is back with the very strange Anomalisa, which is based on an earlier stage play of his.
Kaufmann raised almost $500,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to fund a film that features marionettes that come to life via stop-motion animation. The two principal characters--Michael Stone, a self-help motivational speaker, and an insecure woman named Lisa whom Michael meets at a hotel--are voiced by David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh. However, the visual models for the principals are based on non- actors Kaufmann discovered outside the usual casting process.
The story begins with Michael arriving in Cincinnati and checking in at the "Fregoli Hotel." This is a reference to the Fregoli delusion, or the delusion of doubles, which (as Wikipedia informs us), "is a rare disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that different people are in fact a single person who changes appearance or is in disguise." Indeed, throughout the film, except for Lisa (the woman for whom he falls head over heels for), everyone else has the same male voice and face (voiced by Tom Noonan).
Michael's particular delusion suggests that he is both paranoid and narcissistic, unable to form normal relationships with anyone. He calls up an old girlfriend, Bella, and invites her to meet him downstairs at the hotel bar. When he invites her upstairs to his room (presumably for sex), Bella is outraged and storms out.
On the way to the hotel, Michael had asked the cab driver where he could find a toy store that was open late, in order to get a present for his son. The driver inadvertently gives him directions to an adult toy store where Michael ends up purchasing a Japanese animatronic woman (the significance of which escapes me).
Michael then has a paranoid fit, knocking on all the doors on his floor in the hotel, looking for a "friend" who he believes has been looking for him. Instead, two women answer one of the doors he knocks on?and one of the women, Lisa, has her own distinct face and voice. Here Michael finally connects with someone, confirmed by her unique appearance.
Michael invites Lisa to his room where she reveals she's insecure, especially about a facial scar that she conceals with her hair. But Michael is captivated and is even more thrilled when she begins singing her own rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." The two then have sex in a fairly graphic scene, not usually seen in films featuring animated marionettes.
In perhaps the best scene in the film, Michael has a nightmare where part of his face falls off in the hotel hallway and then is pursued by all the identical people who claim they love him and beg for him not to fall in love with Lisa. When he eats breakfast with Lisa, he can't stand the sounds she makes while eating and hears everyone else's voice over hers. The paranoia reaches its apex when Michael gives his motivational speech at a convention center and begins ranting about US government conspiracies?the audience there is clearly turned off.
When Michael returns home to his family in Los Angeles, his breakdown is complete. He can no longer recognize the guests at a surprise birthday party his wife has thrown for him and becomes blankly absorbed with the Japanese animatronic woman which his son had no interest in as a birthday present. However, in the final scene, Lisa is driving in a car, sitting with her friend, who now has her own face.
The irony Kaufmann appears to be conveying is that here is a self- help speaker that the corporate world puts up on a pedestal, who falls into his own world of self-delusion and is unable to motivate himself in any positive way. But Kaufmann doesn't only want us to laugh at Stone?in a sense he also wants us to laugh at his delusions, which represent the foibles of a neurotic and narcissistic society. If you buy into his critique, then you must accept all the frustrated characters that make up Stone's world: a taxicab driver, for example, who deceives himself that his small-talk is truly worthwhile; a robotic bellhop who must be overly pleasing just to get a tip; an office worker masturbating in front of an open window, inviting voyeuristic onlookers; an ex- girlfriend who holds a grudge and can't get over her anger from a breakup long ago; and even a seemingly normal woman who is held back due to insecurities over physical appearance.
Kaufmann isn't completely negative about social intercourse?the world outside of everyman Stone and his delusions, can be optimistic? Lisa's friend at the end is no longer a figment of Stone's warped consciousness. Kaufmann's quirk-fest, where he turns neurosis into farce, is occasionally clever but decidedly lightweight. Don't expect to laugh too hard here unless scoffing at a superficial conception of humankind's cluelessness is your thing.