There’s no such thing as a Charlie Kaufman movie designed to be watched only once and Anomalisa is certainly no exception. The heartbreaking, surreal, and often bleakly funny movie is a tricky beast. It’s very much a film about misery, isolation and depression, yet not necessarily one that sympathizes with any of those mental states. Equally empathetic to living a life lost to personalized pain and also profoundly critical of the self-destructive narcissism involved in that process, it’s a film that provokes strong and often unpleasant emotional reactions. For those able to reconcile with those unpleasant feelings and even laugh at them, the movie might even touch on the profound. Oh and it’s also an animated film. A beautiful one at that. Love or loath the final result, it’s kind of a miracle that Anomalisa even exists. I choose to love it, but to each their own.
The story follows a miserable motivational speaker (David Thewlis) spending the night in Cincinnati before delivering a speech. He seems disgusted and dejected by everyone, unable to even commit to small talk (which Kaufman writes in hysterically exaggerated mundanity). It takes a few minutes to sink in, but every person surrounding Thewlis shares the same face and voice (the great Tom Noonan). In this distinctly narcissistic world, everyone is a beige haze with the protagonist punished by being the only individual. It’s an ugly thought and simplification of humanity, but a mental state that everyone has experienced at least once if they’re being honest with themselves. After a series of gently comedic confusions as our hero struggles to deal with the world, he hears a distinct voice (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and finds an awkward woman with a unique face who has driven in from out of town to hear his speech. For a moment, there is a human connection amidst a fog of discomforting conformity.
Of course if Anomalisa merely consisted of that elegant metaphor for love, it wouldn’t be a Kaufman joint. Nope, the movie goes to a much darker place and one that eventually strips virtually all empathy for the protagonist in a way that might irritate some viewers. It’s a tough and complex tale that will challenge audiences and offer no easy answers. Yet, in the Kaufman way it’s also absurd, funny, and stunningly surreal with some absolutely extraordinary stop motion animation that blurs the line between imagination and reality. The vocal performances are subdued and deeply moving. The score is hypnotically beautiful and the message is devastatingly heartbreaking. Like all Charlie Kaufman flicks, Anomalisa is an experience that’s difficult to shake off or forget, in both good ways and bad.
As wonderful as Pixar’s comeback picture Inside Out was last year, it is truly a shame that Anomalisa didn’t get more attention during awards season. It’s hard to imagine an animated film this adult and experimental will be produced again in Hollywood anytime soon. It’s a deeply special project for the troubled souls and animation obsessives who will appreciate what Kaufman and Duke Johnson achieved. Hopefully it won’t be long before either director returns with their next project. Clearly there’s no one else stumbling around Hollywood who would dare to attempt something like Anomalisa, even though we need more filmmakers willing to try.
As hoped, Anomalisa looks beautiful in HD. The lighting is deliberately soft, so it’s not as detailed as some Blus. However, the detail on the puppets is remarkable and the stop motion ruffling is gorgeously retained. It’s a stunning transfer that serves the hypnotic animation well, backed by a soft and soothing soundtrack that should draw audiences into the strange film appropriately. If you missed Anomalisa in theaters, this should serve the uniquely tragic experience well.
The special features are divided into three documentaries. The first one is a fantastic 30-minute documentary about the origin and production of the piece. It starts with a discussion of the initial play and how that blew everyone away and then dives into the production of the film. Hilarious, Dino Stamatopoulos (producer and Starburns on Community) reveals that he created an animation studio purely to read the script and get a chance to make the film. From there. it breaks down every aspect of the production from the recording of vocal performances to the incredibly meticulous animation process (which occasionally moved at a pace of 8 frames per day and occasionally ran into problems with companies repossessing sets and equipment). It’s a fantastic little doc exploring almost everything you could want to know about Anomalisa.
BUT, in case that’s just not enough, there are also two additional featurettes. The first is a ten minute min-doc about the attention grabbing sex scene, discussing the beauty and challenges of both the vocal recording and animation that is sweetly cringey from start to finish (yep, there were adult actors hired for video reference). Finally there’s a short five minute piece on the queasy sound design that covers an oft underserved aspect of production with the detail it deserves.
Does this deserve a spot on your Dork Shelf?
Overall, it’s not the most stacked Blu-ray ever released, but it’s hard to imagine anyone who loves Anomalisa being disappointed. This is a great release for sadsack cinephiles everywhere.
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