Anomalisa (2015)

(Netflix Streaming, July 2017) on the one hand, Anomalisa is a powerful, unique, unusually intimate portrait of a man almost pathologically incapable of connecting to anyone else. On the other hand, it’s possible to watch the film and feel little but loathing for him. The first surprise is that the film, from Charlie Kaufman’s eccentric mind, is a work of stop-motion: Conventional wisdom has it that animated film usually portray something that would be impossible to film in real life, but here Anomalisa takes us with few shortcuts through the description of a businessman landing at an airport, taking a taxi to his hotel, checking in, having a bad date with an ex-girlfriend, meeting someone else, and having sex in a hotel room. It takes roughly an hour to get to this point, giving you an idea of the slow rhythm of the film and the care it takes at describing even the most mundane of activities. The stop motion heightens the immersion, deliberately re-creating the tiny gestures and interaction of life in a way that would be invisible in a low-budget film. While there is an obvious fantasy sequence later on, much of Anomalisa is spent in the crevices of life that other movies avoid. It also allows for artistic effects, such as giving the same face and voice to all other characters except for the protagonist and the woman who catches his attention. To its credit, Anomalisa isn’t afraid to portray its main character as reprehensible. Not only is he unable to connect (which is tragic in itself), he’s an adulterer and someone fundamentally incapable of ever being happy. Don’t be surprised to hate the guy by the end of the film. On the other hand, isn’t this Anomalisa’s point? Well, who knows: the surprising thing about small-scale dramas as Anomalisa is that they invite more interpretation than much-bigger genre spectacles. Here we get an acutely realistic sex scene between puppets that’s far more affecting than most of 2015’s movies, a deeply flawed protagonist, interesting ways to present internal conflict and a controlled experiment that may just be designed to irritate you. That’s not perfect (and there’s an argument to say that the film loses control toward the end, as it hits the fantasy sequence) but that’s the kind of experience that jaded cinephiles will treasure. Anomalisa isn’t necessarily a film you’ll see twice, but it’s more than worth seeing once.

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