A copy

 

How does Charlie Kauffman keep surprising me? How does the man who created the portal into John Malkovich, the Lacuna Corp memory wipe, and the house that was continually on fire still find ways to delight me in new ways? You’d think I’d grow callous by now…that he would have to try that much harder to delight me and stir my emotions.

You’d think wrong.

ANOMALISA is a stop-motion animated film about a motivational speaker named Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis) who goes to Cincinnati for one day to give a lecture on the art of customer service. While he’s there, he goes through a series of curious events involving his cab driver, a phone call home to his wife and son, and even a late night drink with an old affair. At almost the moment all seems most fruitless, he hears a voice in the hall. The voice belongs to Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a customer service rep who has driven across the state to hear Michael’s lecture.

The two end up forming the sort of curious connection that often occurs between adults when they’re away from home.

Charlie Kauffman has a way of cutting to the core of love and insecurity. He seems to know like few other creative talents that most of us don’t move about the world as celebrities and rock stars; that most of us awkwardly fumble what we’ve been sold as being exotic and sexy. He sees how much we want to feel connected – want to feel at ease. His stories reflect the reality that is more common; the reality where people mutter, over-analyze, and trip over their own feet.

So when you take that kind of human understanding and you turn it over to a story full of puppets, what you get is something very warm, very tender, and very, very human. Thewlis and Jason-Leigh have a way of bringing real human fragility to their voice work. There’s a conflicted optimism in what we hear Lisa say, and true contradiction in what we get from Michael. But it’s when we see them come to life with the gentlest looks and gestures that it all feels so much more real. From the way Lisa casts her eyes downward to the way Michael fiddles with a Martini glass, we realize we’ve all been in these moments…but we never expected them to come to life in stop-motion.

There’s real tragedy in ANOMALISA in the way it truly reflects the adult quest for happiness. Sometimes that quest is for a singular moment, sometimes that quest is for a whole new life. We’d like to believe that the world of ANOMALISA isn’t our world because in that world, everybody sounds like Tom Noonan (he literally voices every other character that isn’t our leads), and in that world people’s faces can come apart. But the fact is…it’s our world, and in our world true happiness isn’t the easiest thing to find.

ANOMALISA has been picked up at TIFF by Paramount so in the year ahead wide audiences will get to partake in this latest round of human kookiness from Charlie Kauffman. I have no doubt that fans of his works like BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND will certainly see brushstrokes of those stories in this one. Like those, this film makes us wonder who’s real in a world full of fakers, and just how fragile even a moment of escape like this truly is.