The obvious reason for deciding to animate a story is if the story has fantastical elements in it that cannot be easily filmed. Of course with special effects being so good lately, that line is blurrier than ever. Look at the live action sequels to its classic animated films that Disney is doing. You almost never see it going the other way though, a film that could easily be a live action story being animated. Chomet’s The Illusionist comes to mind and there are probably a few others.
And now Charlie Kaufman gives us Anomalisa. It is about an author named Michael Stone, voiced by David Thewlis who is worn down by his mundane life. While on a business trip he meets a woman, Lisa Hesselman, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and they have an encounter. Obviously, this seems closer to Youth or Clouds of Sils Maria than Inside Out.
If you look at the credits for the film on IMDB you will get a clue as to why this film needed to be animated. Thewlis and Leigh voice their characters and every other character in the film is voiced by an actor named Tom Noonan, even the women and children and he doesn’t really do anything to change his voice when he’s doing the characters. He acts but it’s in the voice of a middle aged man coming out of the mouth of a waitress or the main character’s son.
At first, Kaufman revels in the mundanity of the images. They use the stop motion animation to portray the blandest of actions, taking a pill, showering, ordering room service and a bunch of other things we do every time we travel and stay at a hotel. But gradually it sinks in that everybody except David and Lisa sound the same and the filmmaker’s intent dawns on you. This is a portrait of David’s mind.
And that would be fine if David weren’t such an unlikeable character. The world through his eyes is a dull monochromatic bore. Plus he’s being very unfair to the naïve Lisa. But even Lisa fails to gain any sympathy. At first her lack of self-confidence is endearing but after listening to her whine for a while, you just want to tell her to get help and then get as far away from her as possible.
There are layers of symbolism but they’re really not worth exploring. This is thankfully a ninety minute film but I was checking my watch after the first fifteen. It really is a slog.
Most Charlie Kaufman films have an innovative energy to them. The plot conceits are inventive. I suppose you could characterize the conceit here the same way but the story and the characters are so unlikeable that this thing is almost unwatchable.


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