ANOMALISA – A Review By Gary Murray

anomalisa poster



Review By: Gary Murray

Starring the voice talents of Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Thewlis and Tom Noonan

Written by: Charlie Kaufman

Directed by: Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman

Running time: 90 min

MPAA Rating R

Selig Film Rating: Forget it!


2015 was a stellar year for animated films.  It seemed like every month, a different hand or computer crafted work took over the big screen.  They amazed both kids and those adults who were kids at heart.  But since Heavy Metal in the 1980s, there has been a push to make more adult animations that would go past the midnight movie crowds (Fritz the Cat, Wizards).  Another entry in that thought process is Anomalisa, one of the strangest films of this young year.

The story is told with stop-motion animation also know as puppet animation.  Two different examples of this style are the Gumby and Pokey films and The Lego Movie.  It is a painstakingly slow process of moving a 3D miniature just a fraction, taking a single picture-frame them moving it again.  This gives the effect of movement by non-movable objects.  The 1933 King Kong is a stellar example of how this process can be pulled off to an amazing effect.

In Anomalisa, the story is of a corporate superstar lecturer Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) who is going to Cincinnati to give a talk based on his book that is used by call center personnel.   From a single phone call, we are given the information that his marriage has hit a rough patch.  He is an LA guy and does not want to be in fly-over country.  There is an unspoken distain for anything that is not from either coast.

On the cab ride over, he asks the cab driver if there is a toy shop near the hotel so he can get his young son a gift.  The cab driver misunderstands his request and assumes that Michael is looking for a sex toy shop.  The cab driver sends him to a store near the hotel.

At the hotel, Michael checks into the room.  The man behind the counter both looks and sounds exactly like the cab driver.  So does the bellboy.  The more the film unfolds, the more that everyone looks exactly like the cab driver.  That is both men and women.  The suggestion is that either something is going awry or that Michael is going crazy. 

Eventually Michael meets two women who are to attend his speech the next morning.  Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a bit of a scatterbrain but is the only person who does not look like everyone else.  Michael is drawn to this mousy girl who keeps the right side of her face hidden by her hair. 

Eventually, Michael asks Lisa back to his room for a nightcap.  Alone at last, Michael pushes the shy woman to become more intimate.  Eventually, the two get naked.  Yes, there is stop-motion full frontal nudity and sex.  Then the film gets really weird.

This is the worst film in this young year and will probably make my worst film list.  There are so few redeeming bits and at 90 minutes, it is about 89 minutes too long.  At times it is perverse and most of the time it is just boring.  Team America had a more realistic sex scene.

There are hundreds of talented people who brought this work to life and it feels as if they have wasted years of their professional careers.  The way they animate the mouths by changing the faces with each spoken syllable is innovative but a similar effect is done on Robot Chicken and it is done much better. 

While a few shots are artistic, most is just a muddy brown.  Directors Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman have to take the bulk of the blame for wasting 11/2 hours of the audience’s life with this navel gazing tripe.  But, the biggest blame has to be hoisted on the shoulders of Charlie Kaufman.  Not only did he co=direct this but he also wrote it.  It is his baby from the very first draft.

The only true positive is Jennifer Jason Leigh.  She breaths her character to life in a way her male co-stars fail.  One believes her Lisa is a real person and is not being played for a single instance of plot twist.

Now, some big city critics are going to fawn all over every frame of this work calling it ground breaking and innovative.  It is way too self-reflexive and not as cleaver as it thinks it is.  See Anomalisa if you must or it becomes a dare.



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