Friday, January 22, 2016

Adult cartoon ‘Anomalisa’ is typically insightful, bizarre Charlie Kaufman

By Steve Crum
Those familiar with the films of Charlie Kaufman will expect some strange goings-on in his latest picture, an odd gem via puppet animation called Anomalisa. It’s worth watching. In fact, its bizarreness will grab from the get-go. This does not mean you will grasp any or all of its meaning or purpose when the 90 minute running time concludes. 
Ready yourself for filmed eccentricity, ladies and gentlemen. 
Before delving into Anomalisa (a created word used by the main character), realize that Kaufman has written only a smattering of theatrical motion pictures: Being John Malkovich; Synecdoche, New York; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Confessions of a Dangerous Mind; Human Nature; and this new one. Anomalisa and Synecdoche, New York are his only feature film—director works. 
Kaufman himself labels Anomalisa as “existential”—an apt description befitting previous films. His TV-movie, How and Why, involves the discovery of a portal to a supernatural world. In Being John Malkovich, a group of miniaturized humans take advantage of a portal into the brain of actor Malkovich…and literally venture inside and out. 
In the very adult themed, romantic comedy-drama Anomalisa, Kaufman’s first animated film (co-directed by Duke Johnson), a self-help writer named Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) checks into a Cincinnati hotel one weekend to attend a conference of telemarketers. He is to be the main speaker, while at the same time promoting his book, “How May I Help You Help Them?”, aimed at an audience of phone sales people. We soon learn Michael has true fans among the telemarketers, including two ladies sharing a room right down the hall.
A technician adjusts the two primary puppets that serve as Michael and Lisa. Note the stabilizing clamps as the puppets are very slightly moved for the stop motion camera.

Once Michael is situated in his room, his loneliness and insecurity prompt a call to an old flame living nearby. Without getting into specifics, the two meet in the hotel bar only to realize why they previously broke up. Michael suffers even more. He should be rehearsing his speech for the next day, but matters of the heart and hormones dominate his thoughts and actions. Director-writer Kaufman takes us along on Michael’s journey of self satisfaction, from pondering his image in the bathroom mirror to shopping for an adult sex toy in a downtown store. He even  hooks up with one of his fans, Lisa, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh. In addition, Michael has nightmarish fantasies.
Kaufman has said that with Anomalisa he aimed to make us forget we are watching an animated film and accept the characters as real. He succeeds, sure enough, except when he reminds us we ARE watching stop-motion puppetry. For sure, these puppets resemble humans, but their clearly hinged bodies are obviously robotic. A favorite scene: Michael’s lower face unhinges and falls to the floor. He merely picks it up and reattaches it. 
Now that is surreal, very symbolic, and wickedly funny. 

GRADE on an A-F Scale: A-


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