Anomalisa is a beautifully animated creation from the mind of Charlie Kaufman, but I can’t help but be a bit disappointed with it; especially compared to his other works.
Anomalisa tells a small story about a successful, depressed and afflicted writer, Michael, who is visiting Cincinnati for a night and a day to deliver a talk to his customer service inclined fans. Michael’s affliction is that everyone in his life has the same, male, voice (yes, even the women and children) and he feels like he is disconnected from everyone he encounters. Enter Lisa, an anomaly to the aforementioned affliction, as her voice is different and new and Michael will do whatever it takes to keep it in his life at the moment.
This film takes place in under a 24 hour period and it spends the majority of its runtime setting up Michael’s worldview and state of life. This isn’t a bad thing, we really get to know Michael and what he is all about, but in the end I wish we got a bit more time with Lisa. Or at least Michael and Lisa. The big scene we do get with Michael and Lisa is pretty great, with Lisa stealing the show as she slowly opens up to Michael, but the film pivots so quickly once the morning comes for the two. I was completely caught off guard how quickly this film wraps up and wasn’t really connecting with Michael’s big breakdown/revelation.
What I am saying is, I really feel like I need to see this movie again before I can settle on my opinion of it. I LOVE Charlie Kaufman and I have walked out of all of his movies pretty much blown away. I wasn’t blown away by Anomalisa. I loved the film’s sense of humor, I loved the look and animation, I loved the direction and shot selection, I loved Lisa, I loved the dream sequence, I loved the commitment to the smaller moments of life, but I didn’t love Michael. Now, Michael isn’t the most lovable individual, he’s a cheater, sad and depressed, but I couldn’t connect with the character and I think that is my biggest problem with the film. I see where he’s coming from and the struggles he’s going through, but I found myself caring less and less about how he feels; especially once the third act rolls around. I couldn’t tell where I was supposed to fall when it came to how I felt about Michael, and while that is great for conversation it can be quite jarring when the film wraps up before you are ready for it too. Like I said, need to see it again.
I also wish we got a bit more humor out Anomalisa. Kaufman’s jokes are great here, but this was easily his most subdued film on the humor front. The film also never quite gets as weird and out there as I hoped. For a moment I thought the film was about to get there, but that dream sequence turned out to be the only weirdness we got. Yes, the whole voice affliction is weird, but the film does a fantastic job of making it feel so normal that it loses its weirdness once we get to the hotel. Again, I wonder how this will play on a second viewing, but on a first run it feels like Anomalisa was always on the verge of becoming something more interesting. Also, one other thought, would this film be as interesting or compelling if it wasn’t animation?
The voice cast, of only three individuals, is pretty damn great. Led by David Thewlis as Michael, he brings all of the sadness to the voice of that brilliantly animated face. Jennifer Jason Leigh brings a ton of life to the picture in her couple of scenes, and she makes you wish we got to see more of Lisa. Tom Noonan is the all-star though, as he plays every other voice in the film with the same tone, but just the right inflection to diversify all the parts into something the same, yet different.
I’ve been pretty critical of Anomalisa, but that has a lot to do with my love for Charlie Kaufman. This is a film that I enjoyed from start to finish, and I can’t wait/need to see it again. The animation is fantastic and Kaufman brings an originality to the screen as we have come to expect. Is it unfair to ding Kaufman for not being as original as he has been in the past, possibly, but Anomalisa is still a film worth seeing on the big screen.