by Alan Yudman
The slightly unhinged mind of Charlie Kaufman has brought us BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. Those movies had one thing in common. The protagonist was a deeply troubled man, bordering on the edge of insanity or deep mental illness. His latest mines that same territory. ANOMALISA has one major difference. It is an animated film done with puppets. But it may be the most human story Kaufman has ever shared with us. Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is married with a child, but is not close to happy. His trip to Cincinnati gives him the opportunity to explore the possibilities with an old flame who he abandoned years before. But that goes south quickly. Eventually he meets Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is attending the seminar he is to give. His status as a customer service expert gives him instant credibility with her and he easily woos her and draws her into his bed. This seems all pretty pedestrian but the execution is what makes it marvelous. Only three actors lend their voices to the film, Thewlis, Leigh and Tom Noonan. Noonan voices everyone but Michael and Lisa, male and female alike. That “gimmick” expresses Michael’s frustration with the blandness and boring nature of his life. Everyone sounds the same, treats him the same and has the same problems. Lisa’s unique voice immediately points out that something is different and bells go off for both Michael and the audience. She is an anomaly in the sameness of Michael’s life. There’s been a lot of buzz about a sex scene. Yes. Puppet sex. But it may be the most real portrayal of love making that you have ever scene. It’s awkward and odd and weird. Just like the real first time usually is. Duke Johnson co-directed and handled the puppetry and it is nothing short of amazing. ANOMALISA will pull at your strings and make you think.