***1/2 out of ****
Strange experimental works of cinema rarely wind up on the big screen lately. As the demographic that enjoys analytical thinking during a movie continues to prefer staying at home, we can expect fewer movies like Anomalisa slowly make their way into multiplexes across the country regardless of its accolades (This film has an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature). Charlie Kaufman’s second directorial outing is co-directed by animator Duke Johnson to create a stop-motion journey through a depressed man’s mid-life crisis and is not intended for children.
Kaufman’s writing often focuses on artists going to great pains by using impractical methods in order to re-enact the normality of their own lives. John Cusack’s puppeteer character in Being John Malkovich, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s playwright in Synecdoche, New York, and Nicolas Cage’s portrayal of Kaufman himself in Adaptation” are all characters who use art to find connection with themselves and others –but they usually fail.
With Anomalisa the film is representative of this kind of art as we experience one of the most difficult styles of animation going to great lengths to realistically portray the monotony of a middle-aged man staying in a hotel in Cincinnati. The value of this quixotic recreation of everyday tedium is evident in the control that animation offers.
The main character (voice of David Thewlis) is an author and motivational speaker in the area of customer service and the importance of perceiving individuality in clients. With great irony, the world he perceives is made up of people who all have the same generic face and the same voice (Tom Noonan). It is only at the film’s midpoint that he falls madly in love with a guest in the hotel who has a different face and voice (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
The film succeeds in its mission to present mundane human existence in a way that feels compellingly dreamy and surreal, but its structure feels a little off. The 90-minute runtime was actually the augmentation of a short film concept. When it ended, I was almost prepared for another act to the story.
I found Kaufman's first film as director, Senecdoche, New York, to be so filled with despair that I feared it to be the beginning of a new period for him as an artist who has stopped caring for his audience -which the film was about. I am glad that Anomalisa is slightly more accessible even if it is bound to turn a lot of people off in a time when theatergoers would rather come together to watch characters dying horribly than reflect the common problem of human disconnection.