Review: Anomalisa

A hard movie to get a handle on, perhaps (but what did you expect?), this is nevertheless a subtly powerful study of loneliness with creepy undertones aplenty.

Charlie Kaufman’s work as screenwriter, including the bizarrely funny, touching and/or unsettling Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, led to him being allowed to write and direct Synecdoche, New York, which played like a grating parody of Kaufman-esque weirdness. However, Anomalisa, his third pic as writer, director (working with Duke Johnson) and producer, is a deeply strange, curiously romantic and sometimes painful dramatic comedy rendered in stop-motion animation, and it works far better than Synecdoche, as its mysteries feel less forced and more movingly mindbending. Originally a play (written under the pseudonym ‘Francis Fregoli’) and Kickstarter-funded, this has the getting-on Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), an author and legend in the field of customer service, visiting Cincinnati for a day-long business trip. Michael has a wife and son (both voiced by Tom Noonan) at home but he’s disconnected from them, and sees his chance to look up his ex Bella (voiced by Tom Noonan again) while he’s in town to hopefully reconnect, but it doesn’t go well, and he’s left miserable (like so many Kaufman characters). However, when Stone hears the one voice in the film that isn’t Tom Noonan’s, he rushes from his hotel room and meets Lisa Hesselman (Jennifer Jason Leigh), with whom he immediately clicks and finds rapture in her shy sweetness and awkward rendition of Girls Just Want to Have Fun. She’s also swept up in his adoring enthusiasm, but this is a Charlie Kaufman movie and things simply cannot be that easy. A hard movie to get a handle on, perhaps (but what did you expect?), this is nevertheless a subtly powerful study of loneliness with creepy undertones aplenty, especially into its final act, as we wonder why the frumpy Lisa is so special, why all the supporting characters are voiced by Noonan and what Michael sees when he looks in the mirror (and note that there’s a hint somewhere in this review). And yes, the title is explained, sort of, as Kaufman demonstrates that he’s still as anomalous as ever. Anomalisa is in cinemas now. Rated MA

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