Anomalisa is able to capture real life nuances and deliver an intriguing naturalistic snapshot of a midlife crisis through stop motion puppetry, but its emotional and psychological themes are not as universal or relatable as it thinks they are.
Michael Stone, an author of books on the subject of customer service, struggles to connect with people. One night, while on a routine business trip, he meets Lisa, a stranger with a unique voice.
Anomalisa is essentially midlife crisis with puppets, but manages to transcend the limitations of its genre.
It was able to capture the nuances of real life moments by relying on small naturalistic expressions, such as a slight furrow on the eyebrows and a half-smile on the lips. These details are not just applied to the puppets. In a brilliantly executed sequence, a sex scene portrayed the awkwardness and shyness that comes normally between two strangers in bed. In a typical live action movie, this would have involved two sculpted bodies hyper-communicating their orgasms. If Anomalisa should be known for anything, it should be its achievement in depicting human moments through an non-human medium.
The irony of course, doesn’t stop there.
The movie uses subtext throughout the film, with clues along the way to tip you off. Michael Stone is a well known author of books about customer service but he’s having trouble connecting with people around him. As a matter of fact everyone else has the same flat voice including his wife and kid. Everything else looks boring too, even the expensive hotel with all its uniform halls. Luckily for Stone he meets someone who finally changes his dull world, but eventually his reality unravels and reveals the root of his malaise.
While all of this makes Anomalisa a unique stop motion film, it’s the same reason why casual moviegoers may not appreciate the movie. Viewers who are expecting conventional storytelling may not like its slow plot with a puzzle like story. More so for the viewers who are expecting a lively delightful stop motion movie with big-eyed animation.
Preferences aside, Anomalisa tries its best to make its universal theme of emotional despair and psychological alienation relatable, but in hindsight it isn’t.
Stone’s travails is the grown-up version of a typical boy’s fantasy. Instead of a manic pixie dream girl to cure his existential crisis, he meets a self-deprecating (dumb?) woman with a unique voice. Well he doesn’t exactly overcome his despair as the movie continues with its bleak outlook on privileged restlessness. But what the movie prefers to tell us is that the women around him aren’t worthy enough to live with for long and everybody else is dull. And so, his dull world remains unchanged.
Overall, Anomalisa is still an engaging and intriguing movie for those who are searching for something different. It pays to know in advance that this is a Charlie Kaufman film, so those who are expecting something easily digestible may opt to watch something else. It was able to deliver a human story using puppets, but it suffers from the typical Hollywood case of self-centered white people with privileged problems.
My Rating: 8/10