Apart from the TV movie How and Why this is Kaufman’s first writing and directing gig since his 2008 film Synecdoche, New York. It’s also a Kickstarter funded project and is completely done in stop-motion animation, sometimes quite advanced stop-motion animation.
There are just three actors in Anomalisa; David Thewlis (Harry Potter, The Theory of Everything), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, The Machinist) and Tom Noonan (Heat, Last Action Hero).
Thewlis voices the main protagonist Michael Stone, an inspirational speaker about customer service, famous in his field, loved by those who’ve read his book. He lands in Cincinnati to deliver a speech, arrives at his hotel, orders room service, decides to ring and meet his ex and, after that doesn’t go very well, he meets Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) a charming, reserved telesales agent.
Noonan voices every other character in the movie, not only that, but he doesn’t try to change his voice to match the character, everyone sounds the same, they even look the same, only hairstyles and clothes change. Stone and Lisa meanwhile are different, the amount of animation makes them much more realistic, living almost.
The story, as with most of Kaufman’s work to date, asks the bigger questions. Questions like who are we? What is it to be human? To ache? It doesn’t really attempt to answer them, it just asks and it places you in a situation we face more and more in the modern world. Life is lonely, we are lonely, moments are fleeting, love is an anomaly. And yet, within all that, sometimes we find someone who feels the same way we do.
It’s a nice story, well told, however it does drag a little despite being just 1.5 hours and, whilst sometimes the stop-motion is superb, other times it can feel a little rough around the edges. There are nice little punches of comedy throughout the film, sometimes surprisingly so – lookout for the hotel managers office, so large it requires a golf buggy – and, as you’d expect from Kaufman, the dialogue is fantastic and Thewlis performs it brilliantly.
Oh and you can’t talk about this film without mentioning the reason behind it’s R rating. ‘That scene’ is a little weird, it’s stop-motion animation sex, luckily kept far from the Team America style sex scene we last saw with puppets but nonetheless it’s an odd inclusion, but well done, very real-world, very true to life.
Anomalisa is out in UK cinemas on March 11th 2016.