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Anomalisa, written and co-directed by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), is a brilliantly made introspective stop-motion comedy drama that feels like it should have more to say than it actually does.
Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a customer service expert, who is incapable of truly connecting with people. To him, everyone seems like the same person, with the same face and the same voice (Tom Noonan). Michael is lonely and miserable until he encounters Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is truly unique. This is the story of their first encounter and the night they spend together in a Cincinnati hotel.
Anomalisa successfully captures the essence of the suffocatingly mundane. It doesn’t take long to understand what it’s like to be Michael Stone and to see the world as he does. The stop-motion animation allows for both the expressiveness needed to convey the complex emotions of the main characters, and the stilted, mechanical, practically assembly-line nature of the world that surrounds them.
When Michael hears Lisa’s voice for the first time, you will feel as relieved and anxious as he is. You’ll want him to meet Lisa, you’ll want them to be together, just talking to one another. The way Anomalisa tackles human interaction often feels shockingly real for a movie that uses a very distinctly imaginative way to portray it.
The thing is, that’s pretty much all Anomalisa has going for it. There’s no lesson to be learned here and no goal to be achieved. Michael meeting Lisa feels like a moment frozen in time that we were fortunate enough to witness. It’s a beautiful, very heartfelt moment, but when all is said and done, this story ends on what feels like a very hollow note.
Perhaps that’s the point. Closure is not a requirement to any story, and its absence can be just as meaningful. This is a story about self-reflection and it tackles questions that people really don’t stop asking themselves until the day they die.
Nevertheless, when the credits started rolling, I couldn’t help but ask myself “Was that it?”, in a way that felt unsatisfying and unfulfilling. It felt like Anomalisa hadn’t delivered on a promise. Like Lisa herself, it feels unique at first, but it’s not the escape you want or need. It’s a life-changing kind of movie, except it didn’t actually change my life, if that makes any sense.
At the very least, the fact that this movie can elicit such a complicated response means it’s doing something right. It shows a level of investment and interest that’s hard to earn.
It may not be to anyone’s liking and it will certainly leave some wanting more, but Anomalisa is more than likely to strike a chord. It’s a beautifully made film with a very thoughtful understanding of what it means to be human.