Anomalisa (2015) (a film review by Mark R. Leeper).

‘Anomalisa’employs stop-motion animation for what is a very adult story. Two strangers meet going to a conference and one, a celebrated author on the subject of customer service, ironically is just not a people person. He does however meet Lisa, who is a bit intimidated by his fame. Michael is anxious to manipulate Lisa to go to bed with him. Michael is voiced by the talented David Thewlis but the story just goes nowhere. That is surprising for s screenplay by Charlie Kaufman who also co-directed with Duke Johnson.

Rating 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10.


‘Anomalisa’ started out as a stage play by Charlie Kaufman, who wrote ‘Being John Malkovich’ (1999), ‘Adaptation’ (2002) and ‘Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind’ (2004). He co-directs the film with Duke Johnson. The play went through a number of changes until it came to its present form. The animation really is the logical descendent of the old Puppetoons. Those were shot in a kind of stop motion animation in which three-dimensional carved figures are photographed for each frame. Except for repeated use, each figure had to be carved from wood for each frame. The same technique is used here but the carver has been replaced by a 3D printer. It creates a unique feel for the images in ‘Anomalisa’, but it does not do much more than add some quaintness to the photographed image. It is an effect similar to clay animation but more photorealistic. In fact, these images of people may be more realistic than Pixar is doing at this point. It amuses a little which helps when the film gets off to a very slow start. Other than the novelty, the technique really does not do much for the storytelling than plain actors in front of a camera would do.

Michael and Lisa, complete strangers, are coming to the same conference in Cincinnati. They meet and Michael seduces Lisa for a one-night stand. The plot crawls at a snail’s pace and it is quite a while before we see a plot developing. Michael is something of a star and famous expert on customer service but, for the course of this film, Lisa is the only customer he is trying to service. There is some human pain in the characters. Still, it would take a Steven Spielberg to make me feel sorry for the plight of a puppet.

A holdover from the stage play is that we get only three voices on the soundtrack. We have David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh doing the voices for characters Michael and Lisa and everybody else including dozens of characters are all voiced by Tom Noonan, who does not even try to imitate female voice when the character calls for it. It causes some confusion and, for a while, the uninitiated would assume that the film just has a lot of transsexuals.

Somehow the animation really does nothing for this story that live actors could not. The characters may be made out of plastic, but they remain wooden. I rate ‘Anomalisa’ a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

Mark R. Leeper

(c) Mark R. Leeper 2016

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