Creative, but dreary and unpleasant.
Movie Review #1,050
Distributed by Paramount Pictures and Paramount Animation. Animation-Comedy-Drama-Romance. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language. Released January 22, 2016. Directed by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman. Written by Charlie Kaufman. From the play by Francis Fregoli. Starring the voices of David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan.
“Anomalisa” an odd film. Strangely and vividly animated, surreal and dreamlike, but perhaps even more resemblant of a nightmare. Like every film Charlie Kaufman has written or directed, “Anomalisa” is deep, dark, weird, and original. Unfortunately, it’s also very unpleasant. If you’re hoping to be more engaged than revolted by its ultra-bleakness, then you’d better have uppers on hand.
The cast consists of three voices. The two leads, Michael and Lisa, are voiced by David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh, respectively. Every other man, woman, and child in the film is voiced by Tom Noonan. It’s not uncommon that one performer will voice so many characters, but Noonan delivers them all in the same, plain tone. Initially, I was sure that this was a stylistic touch, meant to enhance the feeling of mundanity that surrounds Michael’s life. Even so, the effect is too creepy to simply ignore. Only when Kaufman twists his script entirely, during the last 20 minutes, does the effect seem to gain some meaning.
“Anomalisa” is a heavy exploration exploration of the mundane life of a white-collar traveling man. He meets Lisa, and although she seems to add some spunk into his life, she doesn’t quite do the same for the film. The most memorable portion of the film arrived just after Michael has met Lisa. He invites her back to his hotel room, and she brings him to tears with her rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just to Have Fun”. Then she proceeds to sing an Italian version of the song that Sarah Brightman had apparently recorded. The sequence is awkward and uncomfortable, but also somewhat amusing, so it’s pretty much an extension of how everything else in the movie plays out.
“Anomalisa” is meant to reflect the reality it depicts, but there’s still moments that don’t feel very realistic. It’s only an hour or two after Michael meets Lisa, who seems otherwise in complete control of herself, that the two of them start having sex. Aside from the improbable nature of this scene, it’s also extremely awkward. It’s two, three, maybe four minutes long, and the only purpose it serves is to test our patience. How did the MPAA had the nerve to let such a graphic, discomforting sex scene like this pass with an R rating, when they flagged “Team America: World Police” with an NC-17 over a far shorter, far less revolting sex scene?
After that scene, the script takes a bizarre turn into true Kaufman territory. Irresistibly dark, weird, imaginative, and brilliant. It’s an outstanding climax, which leads to a terrific, haunting finale. It’s just a shame that Kaufman waited until the last 20 minutes to ignite his genius.
Note: This August, I celebrated the 1,000th review posted on Cinemaniac Reviews. That included 50 reviews by my contributing writer, Red Stewart. Therefore, this review is the 1,000th that I have written on my blog. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this.