Geppetto has finally lost it, Pinocchio has ADHD, and there are puppets getting drunk singing Cyndi Lauper.
Anomalisa has a restrained violence in how much detail has been put into its world, as we are taken into the mind of a man who has almost been beaten by it. The mundane goings on create a haunting commentary, interspersed with schizophrenic mirages and truthful dialogue. Life is even more grim than it was in Charlie Kaufman’s previous film Synecdoche, if that’s even possible. We live in a world where a tired motivational speaker lusts for connection, but can’t attain it, and commits adultery with women he meets in hallucinogenic states of collapse.
Remember that night when we saw a film with a puppet taking a leak? Now they were some strange puppets. A bizarre thing happened to the cast of Sesame street, they left, got boring jobs, and started reading Beckett. There are no heroes or heroines in Kaufman films. Anomalisa‘s puppets like to swear a lot. They have relationship problems, and don’t really listen to each other. The humour of this film alone, is buried so deep, that it grips you by the spine. Kaufman’s use of puppets is important, as we can see from the transition of a struggling puppeteer in Being John Malkovich, to where the concept has been developed even further in this film. There’s nothing in this film that tries to be pious or over-clever however, no sensationalism, or anything over-cooked, which plagues a lot of productions that try it on with existentialism.
There’s a point where Donna (Michael’s wife, as voiced by the excellent Tom Noonan) says: “He’s in his pirate suit!” to him over the phone. This is a line from the film that is so depressing and knowable, it’s an immediate classic. Why do we care about some emotionally disconnected boy that we can’t even see on-screen running about in a pirate suit? The answer is in the style of the film, and why it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, where the humour may dichotomise the audience, with it being so inexplicit, but let’s face it: this is what the film industry needs, more style, and fewer explosions. In short, art. In Anomalisa the toxicity is removed from looking at the human condition, yet without the over-sentimentality that sinks most scripts trying to tackle it. The film is a surreal Lost In Translation for 2016.
The truth about many current day animations is that they just look too pristine, foaming at the mouth with 3D rainbows, and yowl like they’ve just had a pint of espresso, with a side of meth, meth, and meth. Anomalisa is on the other side however, and takes us back to this place where things are not beautified at the cost of frankness. The effect of the stop-action animation and digital techniques employed are highly cerebral, but also low-key, so that they don’t distract from the basic story. If you told me that there was a mainstream film on at the cinema about a customer service motivational speaker, I’d at best feel bored, or at worst think you were drunk. Unless you tell me that it’s a Kaufman film of course, which instantly signals that it may actually be original.
What is the point of this film? Is it that we are all just puppets? No. The point is that there are still people in the film industry creating art, which is mostly an oxymoron, but when it isn’t, it’s time to take notice. The naturalism in exchanges between characters has the atmosphere of a Raymond Carver story at times. There are lost people drinking in a hotel lobby, piano, and awkwardness, yet, with a resounding style that permeates the din of muzak culture which we are normally surrounded by.
Some critics have said that this film is just a type of eccentric personal project. The truth is that it’s just original, and originality always comes with a type of creative aggression, that doesn’t care about the status quo. The directness has Lars Von Trier type poetics at times, cuts with a sincere knife, and in a fluxive format that wouldn’t have worked with live actors.
Is this film a success or a failure? Does it satisfy our need for a film that feels like an indie, but transcends the borders of commercial acceptability? Anomalisa answers these questions with reality. In fact, it is at times harrowing to watch, since there is more horror in reality than anywhere else. Yet the reason that Anomalisa rips the blinders off so well, even with a type of delicacy, is that its universe is ultimately driven by humour, heckling misery, and not afraid to make a lucid cocktail from both.
5 / 5
Dir: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
Scr: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: Tom Noonan, David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Prd: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson, Dino Stamatopoulos, Rosa Tran
DOP: Joe Passarelli
Music: Carter Burwell
Country: UK, USA, Europe, Asia (limited release)
Run time: 90 mins
Anomalisa is in UK cinemas now.