Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Charlie Kaufman is known for writing incredibly deep, poetic films, packed with well-thought out themes highlighting the human condition. It’s hard to whittle down all the ideas that are generally presented in his movies, like “Being John Malkovich”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Adaptation”. His writing is crisp, refreshing, and sometimes highlights unknown mental problems and the emotional disconnection we sometimes face in this little thing called life. “Anomalisa” is another entry in Kaufman’s peculiar catalogue. It’s his most audacious movie, but it’s also his most overrated.
Visually, “Anomalisa” draws you in with its 3D puppets populating the world. The attention to detail is marvelous, but it allows the viewer to quickly recognize that the people (puppets) are all eerily similar. The men and women, that aren’t Michael Stone (Thewlis), blur together because of their lack of uniqueness. It doesn’t help that everyone in this movie is voiced by Tom Noonan, adding to one of the first ideas of the movie. Michael is alone and that sense of loneliness is more profound that he’s leading on.
Michael talks with a cabbie, a bellhop, his wife, and even his son, but all of them sound the same. Even though he can’t see some of them, they all share the same bright lifeless eyes. His seems to be the only ones with any kind of glimmer. The hopelessness would envelop Michael if it wasn’t for Lisa (Leigh). Unlike everyone else Michael comes across, is shy, slightly disfigured, and most importantly, not voiced by Noonan. Michael’s sadness temporarily fades as he seems to contemplate leaving his wife, his son, and everything else behind for this one person who has broken through his monotone life.
Michael’s experience is slightly more interesting than anyone else because he’s a self-help guru that people adore. It breaks the mold by showing that the ones who are supposed to have all the knowledge and should feel the most love, still act withdrawn and feel isolated from the rest of the happy people surrounding them. It raises an interesting question about how we sometimes wonder if the smiling faces we see around us are facades. At the same time, it asks an equally stranger question, as to whether or not the people we see are actually as deep and emotional as we are. Which is an inherently selfish thought, but Michael’s not perfect. He is selfish.
One of the first real problems with “Anomalisa” is that Michael is not a likeable enough person for us to feel too much sympathy for. But are we supposed to? That seems like the biggest question that goes unanswered in “Anomalisa”. He’s self-absorbed and neurotic, and a quick glance of his life may imply he’s suffering from a mid-life crisis, but this is a Charlie Kaufman film and nothing can be as simple as that. The multiple layers that we have to peel a way to find the answer, only reveals a truth that’s even deeper than we’ve already dug.
As much as I want to love “Anomalisa” for its unique style, its fearless manner in which it tackles its subject and his feelings, I can’t help but feel cheated. I can’t help but feel like Kaufman chose the wrong person to center all these existential feelings and questions around. By the end, Michael is not someone that we should root for or like, and if anything, his unlikeability cheapens the luxuriant message. A lot of dialogue in the beginning feels hackneyed, and as it progresses, it begins to feel threadbare. When your purpose is to show how repetitious life becomes, you run the risk of letting your dialogue become tedious.
I feel like “Anomalisa” would have been a fantastic short, but even within 90 minutes; I may have spent too much time being down in the dumps with Michael. If its goal is to make me feel less optimistic and unsure about our place in the world, it’s succeeded. I can’t recommend “Anomalisa” to the average viewer, but I can recommend it to the thousands of cinephiles and film art students that aspire to be intrepid, brave, and original with their content.