REVIEW: Anomalisa

13 01 2016

AnomalisaI have often thought of writing a screenplay, taking a Woody Allen-like approach of stashing all the ideas away in case one of them seems relevant or worth pursuing later. Different germs of ideas reach different stages of development, and often when I consider putting fingers to keyboard, my mind drifts to a Charlie Kaufman script. I think about a “Being John Malkovich” or “Adaptation” and wonder why bother writing when it would doubtfully reach the tremendous heights he scales.

Kaufman’s scripts possess levels of depth that might as well be subterranean. His genius of self-awareness and reflexivity consistently put other writers to shame. So I was taken aback when his latest effort, the stop-motion animated “Anomalisa,” marked something radically different. It was simple.

Most of the film’s complexity comes from the manipulation of the 3D-printed puppets, not from Kaufman’s script. “Anomalisa,” which he co-directed with Duke Johnson, tells a fairly conventional story of one man’s isolation and how an affectionate connection can melt the layers of ice around the heart. When stated as a logline like that, the premise sounds rather like a familiarly dull British dramedy. But Kaufman has a unique angle on it, one better left for each viewer to discover. Don’t read about it before, if at all possible.

Kaufman gradually reveals the central conceit that makes the film special, and then unleashes a tidal wave of sincerity and emotional honesty from lonely business lecturer Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis) and Lisa Hesselman (voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh), the woman whose voice penetrates his soul. The rapport they share feels so authentic, which causes some intentional cognitive dissonance as their bodies are not human.

But once Kaufman comes out in the open with the train of thought powering “Anomalisa,” fans of his work may wonder where the twist comes into play. For a subversive writer who nearly always delights in blowing up storytelling conventions, such a straightforward story with just one major revelation of authorial intent seems strange. Perhaps knowledge of his prior scripts even serves an impediment to fully experiencing “Anomalisa” as viewers would otherwise have no reason to doubt its earnestness and purity. The final product is truly sweet and fulfilling – though whether something this quaint really merited years of Kaufman’s attention is another subject altogether. B+3stars

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