Combustible Celluloid
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With: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan (voices)
Written by: Charlie Kaufman
Directed by: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language
Running Time: 90
Date: 12/30/2015

Anomalisa (2015)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Breaking Voices

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Celebrated screenwriter Charlie Kaufman has fashioned his latest existential crisis as a dark, bizarre stop-motion animated movie, and while it's extraordinary in many ways, it's clearly not for kids. Beginning as a kind of radio play, Kaufman enlisted animator Duke Johnson as a co-director, and they came up with an amazingly detailed, mundane, grimly comic world where the puppets' seams are allowed to show. (This is not a movie about smoothness.)

Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) has published a successful book about customer service, and has traveled to Cincinnati to speak at a convention. Checking into the Fragoli Hotel, he begins to feel that life is meaningless, especially given that all the people around him (all voiced by Tom Noonan) sound the same. As he prepares for an evening of mediocrity, he hears an unusual voice in the hallway, belonging to Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Despite her own shyness and inadequacy, he is drawn to her and wants to run away with her. But before anything can happen, Michael's life takes an even more absurd and bizarre turn.

Fans of Kaufman's imaginative work, like Being John Malkovich or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, will find Anomalisa a more dispiriting affair, with special attention paid to the imperfections of human bodies, and our sometimes clumsy relationships with food, drink, and sex — not to mention longing for love and sense of purpose. It focuses on sounds, not only spoken voices, but also music (Lisa sings a rendition of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" that can break the heart). It's perhaps more hopeless than hopeful, but it's a deep, thoughtful experience.

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