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Film review: Anomalisa – Charlie Kaufman’s eccentric, visionary masterpiece

It’s a return to form for the idiosyncratic writer and director – a film that therapists could spend years analysing, imbued with enough of his familiar melancholic humour to soothe away the blues

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2016, 1:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 April, 2016, 7:56pm

5/5 stars

Eight years since Synecdoche, New York, his first movie as director following a hugely admired screenwriting career, Charlie Kaufman finally returns with Anomalisa. It’s a beguiling, beautiful stop-motion animation about that most fundamental of subjects – what it means to be human. Kaufman’s protracted absence from our screens evidently hasn’t hampered any of his invention or eccentricity.

Set over a weekend, the story centres on Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a motivational speaker who arrives at a Cincinnati hotel to deliver a keynote speech. A married man, the depressed Stone is weighed down by a midlife crisis until he encounters Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a telesales girl in town to hear him speak. They fall under each other’s spell; and Michael dreams of another life with this shy, reserved singleton.

Charlie Kaufman cannot tell you what his mind-bending picture, Anomalisa, is about

This barest of outlines doesn’t begin to capture the film’s strangeness, nor its sweetness. Co-directed by animator Duke Johnson, the puppets have a softness to them, making scenes like Michael and Lisa’s lovemaking tender, not tacky. The film is full of Kaufman’s trademark surreal touches, notably in the way every face that Michael sees, bar Lisa’s, has a uniform quality to it (disconcertingly, everyone else is voiced by Tom Noonan).

Rather like his debut screenplay Being John Malkovich or his Oscar-winning script Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it’s a film therapists could spend years analysing on the couch. But, as with all Kaufman’s work, a melancholic humour is always present to soothe away the blues. The writer-director has, once again, succinctly captured that very modern problem of how we live. Sheer genius.

Anomalisa opens on Apr 7

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