It’s stop-motion animation, but co-directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s “Anomalisa” tells a decidedly human story of a morose middle-age man living an unhappy and unfulfilled life. Boohoo.
The main character, Michael Stone, is basically a big narcissistic and unlikable lump makes the premise of Kaufman’s script all the more engaging. Characters don’t have to be likeable to be interesting. But, the initial intrigue never pays off with something profound, leaving a feeling of indifference.
Michael, voiced with perfection by David Thewlis, is on a business trip to Cincinnati, Ohio to lecture about his best-selling customer-service book, “How May I Help You Help Them.” A sort-of industry rock star, it’s ironic that Michael has zero people skills, as evidenced by a cringe-inducing check-in to the Fregoli Hotel, amongst other awkward moments. So lonely and depressed is Michael that everyone in his world looks and sounds the same (Tom Noonan voices them all).
“Everything is just screwed up; there’s something wrong with me,” Michael tells another character.
You might feel pity for Michael if he wasn’t such a jerk. During the course of his business trip, he shares a few Belvedere martinis with the still-bitter ex-girlfriend he unexpectedly left. He’ll fight with his current wife, and his son will annoy him during a phone call home. He’ll top it off with a one-night stand with a “groupie,” a shy and gawky girl who suddenly doesn’t look or sound like everyone else. Her name is Lisa, and she is the anomaly in the title.
In a 180 degrees twist away from her feral “Hateful Eight” character, Jennifer Jason Leigh imbues Lisa with the sweetness for which Michael may be searching to offset his sourness. She gives the movie a soul. A night of passionate puppet sex ensues. The yin-and-yang thing works well. Until it doesn’t.
Kaufman, best known as the eclectic genius behind such mind-bending endeavors as “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich,” does not flesh out the character of Michael with any shape or form. He starts out a jerk and finishes a jerk. What’s more disappointing is the ease in figuring out where a Kaufman flick is going long before you reach the destination. This psychological exploration of loneliness and longing is pretty standard fare. It’s not the kind of depth Kaufman is capable of. But middling Kaufman is better than most anything out there.
The animation is a clever gimmick, making “Anomalisa” a different and worthwhile cinematic experience, as Michael likely would believe, when everything is the same.
Featuring the voices of David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan.
Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.