Little boxes all the same.”
Perhaps screenwriter Charlie Kaufman took influence from this repetition in the Pete Seeger song “Little Boxes” when creating his main character’s world in “Anomalisa.” Aside from the main characters, the world is populated by copies of the same face and voice.
“Anomalisa” is a stop-motion film not unlike “Fantastic Mr. Fox” or “Team America.” But the latter two films use the medium to emphasize the outrageous comedic style of their creators while “Anomalisa” uses it to enhance the subtlety of Kaufman’s world view. It’s filled with shallow people who all blend together into a gulf of nothing.
Observing the gulf from deep within is Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a motivational speaker who has made it his life’s mission to push people toward happiness, which he views as only a mirage.
But Michael himself is chasing a mirage that he believes is relief from his own sexual frustration. He calls an ex-girlfriend named Bella and asks to see her at a bar, but the spark is still absent and the encounter goes exactly how it would go. This isn’t a fling, it’s just another blip in his world.
Then comes a true anomaly in the form of Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the only other character in the film with a unique voice. She shines when with her friend, but when alone with Michael, she goes back into her shell. Throughout the film, Michael tries to open this shell.
Like most other Kaufman films, such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Synecdoche, New York”, the main character is frustrated with the world and even more frustrated with himself for being a part of it. Also like other Kaufman films, the comedy is dry and awkward. But such charm emphasizes the profoundness of “Anomalisa.”
The puppets are more realistic than human actors without seeming uncanny. it’s not clear if the characters know that they’re puppets, but there is a scene where Michael almost removes his face plate. Perhaps it is a near surrender into normality.
Witty and intelligent without being pretentious, “Anomalisa” is the perfect film for both Kaufman enthusiasts and movie lovers.
“Anomalisa” is currently playing at the Tower Theater in Sacramento.