It’s been a long, tough seven-year wait for Charlie Kaufman to follow up his directorial debut. There’s no one else out there who can match the morbid wit and surreal emotional honesty of the ‘Being John Malkovich’ writer at his best. Thankfully, now that Kaufman has finally returned, he’s done so with a rather extraordinary movie that instantly feels like one of his best.
Simply by being made through stop-motion animation, this is one of Kaufman’s most stylized works, and yet on almost every other level it’s one of his smallest and most grounded in the human experience. ‘Anomalisa’ is a truly unique piece of work, which Kaufman seems to produce on demand.
At the center of this strange little story is a burned-out motivational speaker named Michael (David Thewlis). He’s been touring for too long and feels completely disconnected from everything and everyone. In fact, after landing in Cincinnati for his latest speech, absolutely everyone around him (male and female) have the same face and the same voice (Tom Noonan, good choice). Then somewhere in all the white noise, Michael finds Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). She’s the only other person in this odd little world who looks and sounds different. For a moment, they find each other and see their uniqueness, which I suppose is what you’d call love.
‘Anomalisa’ is filled with surreal asides and the type of strange humor that walks a fine line between the absurdist and naturalistic that Kaufman is known for. Yet at its core is a beautiful little metaphor about the impossible miracle of finding love and connection, which he plays painfully straight. The animation by co-director Duke Johnson and his team is absolutely stunning. Though the characters are clearly puppets, their behavior and physical performances are extraordinarily human. The movie has a love scene at a certain point, and while it might initially get some ‘Team America’ style snickers, it eventually becomes oddly moving.
Kaufman has always had a knack for imbuing surreal situations with rich emotions and vice versa, but something about ‘Anomalisa’ seems to resonate a little deeper. Perhaps it’s because his veil of meta humor is almost completely removed. Perhaps it’s the result of tapping into an experience that’s richly personal. It’s difficult to say, but as much as ‘Anomalisa’ feels like Kaufman’s smallest movie to date, it might also be his most resonant. There’s certainly never been another film quite like it. Until Kaufman cracks open that big brain and broken heart of his again, it’s unlikely that there will be anything similar any time soon.