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REVIEW: “Anomalisa” Animation for Adults

Technically Anomalisa is a 2015 film hitting film festivals in September. However it wasn’t released in some theaters until December 30th, 2015 and it didn’t hit San Francisco until early to mid-January. I was able to see it over the weekend and I’m extremely torn on how I feel about this Oscar Nominated film.

Anomalisa has gotten almost nothing but glowing reviews for how real it felt. Charlie Kaufman of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation fame wrote and directed. Duke Johnson directed as well with his experience in stop motion animation on projects such as Moral Orel. Kaufman had originally written the story as a “sound play” (using the pen name Francis Fregoli) where the actors would be on stage essentially reading the script to the audience. Johnson and Kaufmen were brought together through a mutual acquaintance and after some negotiating launched a Kickstarter to fund their passion project.

So far so good! I love other Kaufman films. I love stop motion animation. I’m a huge supporter of crowdfunded endeavors. So why does this film rub me the wrong way? Lets take a peak at the summary.

Michael Stone, a middle-aged motivational speaker who is grappling with an existential crisis, attends a customer service convention in Cincinnati to give a speech. At the hotel, he meets and falls for Lisa, a seemingly ordinary woman who sparks his imagination and energizes him to reexamine his life.

arting-anomalisa04Doesn’t seem too bad. I immediately thought of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope even though Lisa doesn’t fit the manic part of the trope as she is more reserved and insecure, but she still serves the purpose of a MPDG; to save the male protagonist from their less than satisfactory unhappy life.

Anomalisa is an entertaining movie and really well done from the cinematography to the subtlety in the sound design and candid-ness in the voice acting. I loved that the characters’ faces were made using a 3D printer which was made more obvious on extreme close ups. I know the seams on the faces were kept in due to budget (they’re usually edited out in post production for stop motion animation), but I loved that those designs later play into Michael’s breakdown later in the film.

The dialogue worked great and made you uncomfortable when you needed to be like when Michael fumbled over trying to buy a toy for his son when it was actually an adult toy shop. But it also made you laugh during those awkward first encounter exchanges with Lisa and her friend. It all felt very natural. However there were parts that I know were intended for the audience to react like “Aww that’s so sweet of Michael to say,” but I was in my seat thinking … “REALLY?”

arting-anomalisa03I get it. Michael is depressed. Michael is tortured. Michael is desperately searching for anything to bring back a spark to his life. All of this is illustrated by having every character that is not Lisa have the same exact almost creepily basic face and the same monotonous voice (Tom Noonan easily provided voices for 20+ characters, and it was hilarious once you caught on.) Even the Fregoli Hotel that Michael stays at is a nod to the delusion he suffers from. Lisa isn’t special by usual societal standards but her voice is different than everyone else in Michael’s world.

I did enjoy how the film ended as it’s not the stereotypical Hollywood happy ending that would’ve probably been forced upon the creators had it not been a Kickstarted independent project.

arting-anomalisa02So if I’m saying all these wonderful things about the movie, then why am I torn on it? I think what bugged me was that the story felt recycled to me. Middle aged male creative seeks comfort from a younger woman to save him from his mundane life/marriage. It’s been done before multiple times but now it’s in stop motion so gets deemed different? Don’t get me wrong. It’s still a great movie and I highly recommend seeing it. I’m afraid I wasn’t as enchanted and taken by the movie as it’s other reviewers. In the end, I just didn’t care about Michael.

Now what if everything were the same but the genders were switched? Food for thought.

[Rating 4/5]
Rotten Tomatoes: 91% (8.3/10 average)

Release Date: December 30th 2015 (Limited)
Studio: Starburns Industries
90 Minutes | Rated R
Directors: Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Stars: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh & Tom Noonan

What are your thoughts on Anomalisa? Comment below or tweet me @teriarchibbles!

ARTing is my new column all about animation, graphic novels, and anything in between that is art related. Regular posts coming on Wednesdays.

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