Sunday, January 24, 2016


Rated:  R

STARS: Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Thewlis, Tom Noonan
DIRECTOR: Charlie Kaufman
GENRE: Animation/Drama/Comedy

There is a scene in Charlie Kaufman's animated film, Anomalisa, where Jennifer Jason Leigh, the voice of Lisa, gives an impromptu acapella rendering of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." First in English. Then in Italian. It should have been nominated for Best Pop Vocal by a Claymation Puppet--but then, how many of those would there be? If you think we're talking unique...and quirky... you're right. Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Synecdoche, New York) is in familiar territory.

Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), is a renown expert in the field of customer service, flying into Cincinnati to speak at a convention. The people he interacts with attempt to make small talk, but he is not interested. For Michael, everyone else fades into the morass of drab uniformity--so much so that they all speak in the same male voice (that of Tom Noonan ). EVEN THE WOMEN. Michael haltingly tries to break through his boredom--looking up an old girlfriend who lives in the area. They meet for a drink. There are recriminations about the past. It doesn't go well. At his hotel, he runs into a couple of customer service groupies, Lisa and Emily (everyone has their fans). Lisa is the shy one. She thinks she is ugly, but she is not. We can see that she's not, and so can Michael. Lisa is special--an anomaly--the only character in the film who speaks in a normal female voice. (Charlie Kaufman's inventiveness on display.) Michael chooses Lisa over her more gregarious friend, and they end up in his room together. There we are witness to a steamy, realistic sex scene that, had it been live actors rather than puppets, would have qualified as soft-core porn and the film would have been slapped with an NC-17 rating instead of an  "R." ( I can see Howdy Doody sitting in the darkened theater and doing a Pee Wee Herman watching this!)

Michael, a married man,  is falling hard for Lisa (pun intended) and wants to leave his family and take up with her. This is where any further revelation of the plot would be a spoiler.

The insights Kaufman arrives at in the introspective Anomalisa, and the manner in which he arrives at them, brings to mind Antoine de Saint-Exupery's classic, The Little Prince. And that is saying something.

There is a scientific principle known as Occam's Razor which, stated plainly, postulates that when there are competing hypotheses, the simplest explanation is usually the best. The simple point of Anomalisa, then, appears to be "familiarity breeds contempt." You may arrive at something else. That's the beauty, and the brilliance of Anomalisa. Multiple viewings may be in order.

Anomalisa garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. Something tells me it's going to win.

Grade:  A


All I can say is when Tim and I left the movie theater, two gals still seated in front of us turned and said, "Was that the weirdest film you've ever seen?!" I quickly agreed. Granted, there were moments of total brilliance – the puppet-driven sex scene and the morning after conversation over scrambled eggs. But like those ladies, I left the theater wondering what the hell Charlie Kaufman's message was?

That life ultimately sucks? That there's a soulmate out there for everybody? That we unconsciously hear the same voices in our heads, regardless of age, sex or relationship? Anomalisa definitely makes you think. (And I'm not big on too much cogitating when it comes to movies.)

You know you're in for weirdness when the film begins with a blank black screen and a cacophony of overdubbed voices. This goes on for at least 30 seconds, preparing you for something unusual. Very unusual. On a personal note, whenever I want us to see a movie that Tim doesn't want to see, his stock response is, "I know the ending already." Well, he sure couldn't say that about Anomalisa. In fact, I still don't know what the ending means!

Grade: C +

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