Monday, January 25, 2016


Back in the day, a feature cartoon adapted from R. Crumb's randy comic, Fritz the Cat, bore the tagline: "He's X-rated—and animated!"

The publicity is not quite so sensational for the new stop-motion animated feature, Anomalisa; the themes are just as adult in nature, and the storyline remarkably frank, but the handling of the material is both more muted, and yet even more surreal.

And we'd expect no less from the latest experiment in cinematic arts and craft from the febrile imagination of scriptwriter-turned-director Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

Remember, in the Kaufman-scripted Being John Malkovich, when the hapless protagonist attempts to stage the tragedy of Abélard and Heloise as a puppet show?

In Anomalisa, Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson grapple with the malaise of modern humanity—the emptiness and alienation we've all felt sometimes—using stop-motion puppets.

Michael and Lisa: Everyone is special to someone.
 It's a brilliant idea, in concept, and the choices made by the filmmakers to spin their yarn are often wildly inventive. Still, for all its deeply human themes, the story never quite touches the heart.

Front and center is Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis), a middle-aged self-help guru who can't seem to help himself. To express the boring sameness of Michael's everyday life, the filmmakers cleverly have one actor (the versatile Tom Noonan) providing voices for everyone else he encounters—male or female, adult or child.

Until Michael meets Lisa. Her voice—warm, funny, girlish at times—is done by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Michael nicknames her "Anomalisa" because her individuality is so unexpected. He can't articulate why he finds mousy Lisa so special, but who can explain the mysteries of love and attraction?

In the film's most persuasive scene, they go to bed, with all the awkwardness, humor, and tenderness of a real-life encounter.

There are some truly marvelous moments. When Michael turns on the TV, the filmmakers lovingly recreate a scene from the classic '30s screwball comedy, My Man Godfrey—in black-and-white—with Noonan (of course) supplying voices for both William Powell and Carole Lombard.

But other sections don't come off as well, like a long suite of opening scenes no less tedious for being staged with puppets. As admirable as Anomalisa is in so many ways, by the end, I wanted to be more moved. (Read complete review in this week's Good Times)

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