If you know Charlie Kaufman’s work you know that you rarely know exactly what you’ll be getting going into one of his movies the first time. You then also have the consistent quality Claymation work or Duke Johnson which is primarily seen in comedy but certainly is one of the best directors in the medium at least in the US. So the big question is what happens when you mix these two together to make a movie, and it’s my pleasure to be able to share that with you now.
Anomalisa is the story of Michael Stone (David Thewlis) a British Customer Service expert who lives in California but is visiting Cincinnati for speaking engagement about Customer Service. Michael has a weird predicament though because, though he has come to mostly accept it, everyone in the world from his wife and son to his cab driver seem to be the same person. All of them have a roughly the same facial features and all have the same voice (Tom Noonan) and no one else seems to notice this but him. Michael is troubled by this and seems to be just hugely depressed in this world until he hears a truly different voice, that of Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) a woman there to hear his speech. It then becomes the question of will we find the source of this sameness or at very least will Michael find some happiness with this different voice.
Above all else I feel I have to give a ton of credit to Johnson and his team on the claymation because this film goes above and beyond my expectations for it. They’ve always done really good work but there are points in this film where it almost looks like a real person in a real world. There is only really one seam to that in the form of the lines on the face for the different parts that was left in the film instead of edited out as is traditional but that is intentional for a reason in the story I won’t ruin. Overall this puppets look great, move naturally and are totally anatomically correct, which quite honestly I kinda thought might happen though I didn’t expect claymation cunnilingus…but that’s something I’ll leave up to your imagination. But overall I have to say this may be some of Johnson’s best work as it really feels living and breathing with a lot of detail work done that would be immensely time consuming but also brings a lot to it.
Kaufman as well does a fantastic job with the story and with his cast that we only hear of course but breathes life to these characters. The narrative has that sort of personal yet mystical feel that I get from Kaufman’s other work that but still stands well on its own too. Thewlis brings a lot of heart and energy to the character of Michael that the animators brought to life well. Leigh’s work as the unsure and shy Lisa is a nice performance as well that plays off of Thewlis well. Noonan’s work as “Everyone Else” is clever as an often funny as he keeps basically the same calm mellow tone throughout and is particularly weird coming from children, but it works. Kaufman mentioned this started first as an audio play but that the Johnson and the Starburns Industries team saw/heard it and convinced him to do it in claymation and I have to say the story is clearly so strong since it came from such a minimalist world, but the adaptations to take more advantage of the visual form also adds more character and humor too. There are times that it feels like just filling time that isn’t all that great to be sure but overall the film is a joy to see and get into along with some existentialism and some things to give you pause for more thought about what it all means.
I’m not the biggest Kaufman fan (though I do love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) though I do love the work of Duke Johnson pretty thoroughly so I was pretty excited for this one and for me it didn’t disappoint. I know it’s not for everyone and even spoke to a few people I trust who didn’t like it nearly as much as myself, but if you want something gorgeously animated with an interesting story that can even sometimes make you uncomfortable I advise giving this a look.