Writer/co-director Charlie Kaufman and his team put stop-motion animation to great use, both in utilizing its natural awkwardness for visual humor and creating a perfect stylistic match for Anomalisa‘s perpetual sense of discordance and disconnect. Even the main character, a middle-aged, despondent, motivational speaker, says to an ex-lover, “something is wrong.”
Something is wrong indeed, and the film’s true strength is in its ability to wring profound human truth from stop-motion’s innate “wrongness.” This is a good thing, because so much of Anomalisa is rooted in the banal (despite an absurd and darkly comedic dream sequence) aspects of life. Kaufman shows us almost every detail of Michael Stone’s night at a bland upscale hotel, from the difficult time he has ordering room service to his quick trip to the ice machine, Anomalisa‘s day-to-day feel is dryly humorous when juxtaposed with its stop-motion style.
We soon realize that much of this evening must be taking place inside Michael’s head (and the film is all the bleaker for it – this is what is going on in there?), not least because Tom Noonan voices every other character in the picture. The one exception is Lisa, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who single-handedly pulls Michael out of his boredom, depression, and crushing loneliness. Leigh is phenomenal, her voice as fresh and alive to us as it is to Michael.
It really is quite brilliant. The film recognizes Michael’s loneliness, isolation, and detachment as self-induced, which saves it from ever feeling manipulative. It is all a bit pessimistic, but Kaufman hits so many beautiful, human moments of truth that it avoids feeling like an exercise in misery. For example – there is a sex scene, between two puppets, that rings far truer than many (if any) I’ve seen between two live actors. It is emblematic of Anomalisa as a whole – awkward, honest, humorous, and emotionally moving.