Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fantastic Fest 2015 Review: ANOMALISA

Directors:  Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson.
Writer: Charlie Kaufman.
Actors: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan. 

Whenever Charlie Kaufman makes a movie, people pay attention. And with good reason. While his
movies maybe a little dense and heavy with metaphors, they are always visually stunning with some heavy themes he tries to deal with. Collaborating with stop-motion animation director, Duke Johnson, Anomalisa is the Kaufman's first entry into animation.

For the majority of the movie, we follow Michael Stone (David Thewlis). He's quite the expert and legend among this weird customer service industry that reveres his words; they buy his book and even has groupy-type of fans. Thing is, Michael is a really unhappy person. To him, the world is the same, everyone looks and sounds the same.  Everyone, even his family, all sound like Tom Noonan.

When he goes to a customer service convention in Cincinnati, he starts going through a breakdown when he meets Lisa (Jason Leigh). She doesn't sound like Tom Noonan for one, and she's this interesting person to Michael despite not knowing why. And isn't falling in love a little like that? Where the person is so special everything else fades to the background and you can't quite put your finger on it, but it works.

This being a puppet-centric movie, it's interesting to note just how well designed and technically accomplished the animation is. Despite their faces having a very obvious split, he puppets all look and feel like real people. They breathe despite not being built for that function, and the way they move leaves the uncanny valley behind. Because of this everything that happens in the movie feels like a true punch to gut. There is one particular sex scene that is one of the most heartfelt and honest scenes seen on a movie screen in a long time.

Visually, the movie is as creative and surreal as a Kaufman movie can be all the while being very mundane. Nothing stands out, everything looks seemingly beige, everyone is the right kind of polite, the hotels all have that very generic hotel look, even the city itself looks boring. But then there's all of these touches that add bits of humor and humanity. Times like when you can't get your key at the hotel to work or the water can't get to the right temperature in the shower. Being at odds with its protagonist, the movie tries to find the human in the mundane.

Anomalisa  is one of those movies where it feels wrong to write a review after only seeing it once. In the broadest of strokes, the movie tries to tackle love, the inexplicably of attraction, and how one views the world. On the other hand, it's a very personal story and heartbreaking story about an unhappy man wandering through the world. But that's kind of the beauty of these movies.

On one side, Michael is a terrible person. He calls up his ex-girlfriend who lives in town and she sounds like Tom Noonan, but you hear her dialogue, and even after not seeing each other after ten years she is still so hurt by their break up but all he can see is a generic individual. But then when he experiences his first meeting with Lisa, you root for him because it truly is an exciting thing to feel.

Anomalisa is truly a beautiful moviegoing experience. The amount of heart that the movie has coupled with the technical complexity of the animation makes this movie the best of two worlds. It's a movie that needs to be seen with a group of people to talk about and then re-watched over and over. And that's what great movies should be like.

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