A lonely customer service speaker meets a special woman. Why is she so special? Because she is the only person in the world whose voice he can hear properly. A film about loneliness and loss and so much more.
I’m just going to put this out there at the beginning of this review: I never thought there would be a stop-motion animation better than Wallace & Gromit: Curse Of The Were-Rabbit. But there is. And it’s name is Anomalisa.
Charlie Kauffman came to prominence after writing 1999’s Being John Malkovich, and followed it up with Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. He then made his directing debut with Synecdoche, New York, and if you’ve seen any of those films, you don’t need me to tell you he is a truly exceptional talent. This stop-motion animation is based on a “sound play” he wrote in 2005, and he co-directs with Duke Johnson, who directed the excellent “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” episode of Community. In another link to Community (#sixseasonsandtheystillmightmakeamovie), the film was produced by Starburns Industries, with Dino Stamatopoulos working as a producer.
Anomalisa begins with Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) a customer service speaker travelling to Cincinnati to give a talk at a conference. He reads a letter from an old girlfriend who he abandoned years before, but is interrupted by the man sitting next to him:
“Sorry I grabbed your hand.”
“It’s a reflex. I’m usually sitting next to my wife. I don’t like to fly.”
“I said it’s okay. You can let go now, though.”
When Stone gets a taxi from the airport, he has another unwanted conversation with the cab driver, who keeps listing all the things he can do in Cincinnati, despite Stone’s insistence that he is only there for one day.
These first few scenes set the film up (obviously!) by showing Michael Stone as a slightly awkward character who struggles with interactions with people – despite his job as a public speaker, especially one who works in customer service. There is also another important point established here: all the other characters look the same, and all sound the same, being by Tom Noonan. At first, the visual similarities might be put down to the puppets used in the film, and the voices have different tones and some intonations. However, it becomes clear that these are meant to be the same person, something that causes Michael Stone to break down when he meets with his ex-girlfriend and she also looks and sounds the same.
Kauffman used the pen name Francis Fregoli on the original script, and the hotel he stays at is called The Fregoli. This is a reference to the Fregoli Delusion, which causes the sufferer to believe that different people are in fact one person in disguise. The meeting with Bella (his ex-girlfriend) is a breaking point of sorts. Not only does he not recognise her voice on the phone or spot her when she arrives (three women enter the restaurant at the same time and he cannot tell them apart) but he admits that part of his reason for leaving her is that he has these mental issues and can’t tell people apart.
After his hamfisted attempt at reconciliation, Michael returns to his room and takes a shower, and as he is contemplating life (the shot of him looking in the mirror is used as the main poster) he hears a voice. A different voice. A female voice. This leads him in a dash around the hotel, until he finally meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh)
Lisa is in the hotel with her friend Emily to hear Michael’s speech the next day. After the three go for drinks, Michael is enthralled by her, and when they leave the bar, he asks Lisa to go back to his room. When they get to the room, he just listens to her talk, prompting her to talk about her life and dreams. He eventually persuades her to sing Girls Just Want To Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper, which is her favourite song because she also “just wants to walk in the sun”. Her singing causes Michael to cry, as he has not heard a (proper) female voice in years and years. When he discovers the scar that she normally keeps hidden by her hair, he kisses her there. Like her voice, this is the first actual face he has seen for a long time, so her imperfections actually make her all the more appealing to him. She is an anomaly – his Anomalisa.
Although that may seem like I’ve told you the whole plot, this is still only the set-up. In a film this real – or as real as a stop-motion film can be! – Michael and Lisa’s issues don’t just disappear.
Anomalisa really is a remarkable film. When I first heard the premise, I thought it would be cold, self-indulgent, or too worthy. In fact, there is more than enough wit and charm here to warm you to the film and make you care about the characters. Although you can read Michael Stone as a selfish, married man who takes advantage of a lonely woman with low self-esteem, I genuinely felt that he was a severely troubled man overcome with the feelings he has after many years of loneliness and alienation. One of the most tragically human and real films I have ever seen is made with mannequins from a 3D printer. See this film whenever you can.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.