Life sucks. But hey, at least you have groupies.
Michael Stone (David Thewlis) in all honesty, doesn’t live a very grand life. Though he’s famous in some circles, it’s only because he’s written a few books that just so happen to be on the exciting and exciting subject of customer service. Also, he doesn’t really know how to connect with the world around him, which means that strangers, friends and even if his own family, he has an issue of connecting with. In other words, Michael is clinically depressed, but he just doesn’t know it quite yet. He’s getting older, fatter and starting to regret decisions that he’s made in the past, which mostly all come down to past girlfriends he dumped or had to let go. However, one fateful night, he runs into a lonely woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who changes his view of the world and opens his eyes to the beauty that exists with the smaller things in life. Because through Lisa, Michael is capable of figuring out just what it is that he wants to do with his life, while, at the same time, realizing that he needs to work on his issues and make himself better.
Or then again, maybe not. After all, this is a Charlie Kaufman movie and Charlie Kaufman protagonists tend to not really give a crap about their lives.
A lot of people don’t like Charlie Kaufman movies and I’m somewhere in the middle. I absolutely, positively love the hell out of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, whereas, on the other hand, I still don’t fully understand Synecdoche, New York, and it downright infuriates me. However, a lot of people (read: “fancy”) not just love it, but feel as if it’s an absolute life-changer that made them want to get up out of their seats, look at the sky and want to do something with their lives. As for me?
Well, I thought it was interesting, but when it was all done, that was about it. An interesting premise and interesting thoughts, sadly, does not make your movie a good one.
That’s why with Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman finds himself back to his old ways where it seems like he’s trying to say something deep and meaningful for each and every person to hear and understand, but isn’t trying too hard to disguise it in some over-bearing cloak of pretentiousness. Instead, Kaufman wants people to see his point for what it is, which is that life, in other words, kind of sucks. However, rather than just taking a stance and getting on his soap-box for the hell of it, Kaufman allows for Michael Stone (the most average-sounding name ever that makes me wonder if “John Smith” was already taken), to stand-in for him and shout everything out.
But what’s perhaps most interesting about the character of Michael Stone is that he isn’t really much of a loner, or anti-social weirdo – if anything, he’s just clinically depressed and continues to make frequent efforts to get out of that depression. However, because he finds even the smallest details in people to get pissed-off about, he decides to give up all hope and fall back into that depression. Does that make him a bad person? Nope, not really. Just an impatient one is all, which is why Kaufman doesn’t try his hardest to really have us sympathize or glorify this character, his actions, or the thoughts that seem to constantly run throughout his mind while he’s going about his day.
Oh and yeah, before I forget to mention it, Anomalisa is all in stop-motion animation where, instead of actual humans appearing on the screen, speaking and interacting with one another, it’s all puppets. And hell, instead of having a whole huge list of actors and stars, Anomalisa features only three actors’ voices, which may be a bit strange at first. Most of this is due to the fact that, well, there’s more than just three characters here – however, with the exception of Michael Stone and Lisa, everyone is voiced by Tom Noonan.
Well, don’t worry, because I was, too. However, after awhile, like with most of Kaufman’s other movies, I decided to roll with it, give it a chance and see where it all went, which was a great decision on my part, because it truly allowed for me to just soak in how smart and crafty Kaufman can be, even when it seems like he’s not really trying to do anything at all. You could ultimately write Anomalisa up to being another movie where nothing happens, but that would be rather stupid; Kaufman takes ordinary, natural acts people commit in their everyday lives and with the help of the impressive animation, and makes them not just seem unique, but relatable.
For instance, the movie isn’t just about how Michael Stone hates everyone, so we should, too – it’s more about how this one person, one very depressed person, can’t seem to get out of the funk that he calls life. But rather than having us wish were spending time with someone else, in a much better situation, we sit down, watch and wonder what Stone is going to do next. Obviously, this doesn’t lead to many momentous actions (Stone drinks, showers, pees, talks on the phone, etc.), but there’s still something compelling about that all that makes it all worth while, even if it’s not fully well-known just where Kaufman is taking us.
And yes, this is to say that Kaufman handles the heart, the humor, and the absolute sadness of this script very well. The only instance in where I feel like Kaufman really loses his cool is by the very end where it becomes clear that he’s making a point with this story, but doesn’t really feel like holding back anymore, or even being subtle about it. In a way, Michael Stone is just like every other Kaufman protagonist (like I alluded to before), and he eventually starts to lose a bit of his marbles; this doesn’t ruin the movie, but it’s obvious from the very start and when it does eventually happen, it feels as if Kaufman himself knew that it was about time someone in his movie had something of a public melt-down. Either way, Kaufman continues to remind us that this isn’t a problem with life in general, but more or less, Michael Stone’s problem.
And quite frankly, it’s one that I would have been happy to see and hear more of.
Consensus: Thanks to a smart, sweet, and sometimes hilarious script from Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa works both as a dramedy, as well as an animated flick that feels the need to give us a small story that’s easy to relate to, as well as think about for days.
8.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire