I’ve tackled a lot of animated films while reviewing and whether it was the brilliant Inside Out or the dreadful Home, they all had something in common. They were aimed at children. on’t get me wrong, these films had plenty to love for adults, but there aren’t many animated films aimed primarily at adults. Compare it to television and it becomes even more odd because there’s a tonne of animated shows aimed at adults, from Family Guy to the Adult Swim line up. Well that hole in the movie line up has been filled for now after the release of Anomalisa.
Michael Stone (David Thewlis, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) lives a dreary life where he has become bored of everyone and that is shown when he goes to a conference in Cincinnati. However his life gets brightened up when he meets Lisa Hesselman (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight) at the hotel.
The thing that is instantly striking about Anomalisa is the animation which is all stop motion, which is certainly unique. There are barely any stop motion films in general, never mind aimed at adults, and I can’t recall any other film aimed at adults which has used this style. And while the stop motion is very minimalist, it’s still a wonder to see it all take place and be in wonder of the hours of pure hard work that must have gone in to every scene. And it looks brilliant too, with all the sets looking superb while the character models are excellent too, and we’ll get on to one of the unique quirks about that later. There are times that the models are too good and you start to enter the uncanny valley, but I have a sneaky feeling that might be deliberate. That’s the sign of a good movie by the way, when you assume flaws may be features rather than bugs.
In the end, what this film is about is how mundane life is. A popular saying is film making is that your movie should be about the most important moment in a person’s life and while you could argue that is the case for Michael, I’d say the fact all this takes place in a dull hotel waiting for a dull conference is the whole point of the film. That’s especially captured in a pin point script. Apart from the odd brief moment where it gets a bit fanciful, though to its credit it cuts back from that almost instantly, this script just captures though inanity of conversation. It’s apparent from the very beginning when Michael is awkwardly having small talk with a taxi driver and it’s clear he wants no part in this, it all feels way too real.
And there is some incredibly clever stuff going off in Anomalisa too. The weird quirk of this film is that apart from our two leads, everyone has the same face and the same voice (Tom Noonan, Heat). At first this will freak you out as you simply think it’s bad voice acting from a number of different people, it certainly had me running to IMDB, but then realise that is genius. This hammers in the point of how dull life is and how that is making Michael miserable because you end up going through the same experience. Tom Noonan is also brilliant here because by resisting the urge to make the other characters lively, he makes them all downbeat and montone, which makes you feel as if you are in a sensory deprivation tank. In a good way though.
And the masterclass of this is when Lisa enters. Because you are subjected to the dull monotone voice of Noona for so long, when you hear Jennifer Jason Leigh’s voice, it’s such a massive release. And that’s exactly what the film wants you to feel because that is what it is for Michael. He finds someone that is actually different from everyone else in society and has a voice that isn’t just a low pitch drone, of course he is going to get excited and be desperate to see her and talk to her, even if she insists she’s nothing special. The fact the film makes us feel as deliriously happy as Michael when he meets Lisa is credit to it.
I do have a few quibbles about Anomalisa and it is when the quirks go a little bit too far and distract from the plot of the film. This goes for how Michael ends up buying his son a Japanese doll from a sex shop and especially for a scene where Michael has to see the hotel manager whose office is so massive that you need to use a golf cart to get from the door to the desk. Oh and avoid a pit that it’s in there for some reason. These things are so odd it suggests that the world may actually be an interesting place and that goes against the entire point of the film. But these are minor things and take up a couple of minutes in the film itself.
Anomalisa is a triumph. Most animated films use the medium to show us vibrant worlds and things we can excited about but this film uses it show us how dull our lives can be and in the end teaches us to clinch those little tiny moments that make life a bit better. There are some supreme film making talent behind this film and the fact it had to be funded on Kickstarter should shame the big money investors in Hollywood. This is just a joy.