Another string to Kaufman’s bow…
Charlie Kaufman returns from a seven-year absence with a stop-motion animation populated by foot-tall puppets made of metal, rubber and glass.
All but two of the puppets – male, female, adult, child – are voiced by Tom Noonan, and the majority of the action plays out in a hotel named Al Fregoli, as in ‘Fregoli delusion’, a psychiatric disorder whereby the sufferer believes everybody else is in fact the same person in a variety of disguises. And there’s a puppet sex scene that has landed Anomalisa an R-rating in the US for ‘graphic nudity’.
Yet far from being the most ‘Kaufmanesque’ (read: bonkers) offering to date from the brain behind Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Synecdoche, New York, this is his most human and recognisable work.
Adapted from Kaufman’s ‘sound play’, funded on Kickstarter and co-directed by Duke Johnson (the man behind the stop-motion Christmas episode of Community), Anomalisa sees inspirational speaker Michael Stone (voiced, perfectly, by David Thewlis) fly into Cincinnati to lecture a convention of customer service professionals.
Ensconced in his hotel room, he ponders his rocky marriage, arranges a disastrous drink with an ex and generally languishes in existential despair. Then, out of the drone of voices that fill the hotel (all, remember, voiced without modulation by Noonan), he hears a unique cadence – and so begins a startling night of connection with Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh, superb), a shy-but-garrulous small-town telesales agent.
No stranger to the promotional duties that come with releasing a film, Kaufman clearly knows, all too well, the life of jetting into cities to stay a single night in a blandly tasteful hotel, and the manifold details of Anomalisa’s contained world are precisely correct.
Crucially, this observational keenness extends beyond furnishings and elevator muzak to human behaviour, with Michael’s funk, and his heart’s unexpected swelling upon meeting the anomaly that is Lisa, guaranteed to elicit a quivering emotional response from viewers. And as for that sex scene… it’s closer to the desperate awkwardness of Blue Valentine’s motel encounter than the hilarious smut of Team America, though there are gentle laughs, plus tenderness and, yes, eroticism.
After 2015 brought us such splendours as Inside Out, Shaun The Sheep Movie and Song Of The Sea – amplifying claims that we’re enjoying a golden age of animation – 2016 has a lot to live up to. Anomalisa suggests it might just do it.