The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.
Anomalisa (Paramount Pictures)
Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Written by Charlie Kaufman Based on Anomalisa by Charlie Kaufman
This is a weird film. Anomalisa is a weird animated film. It’s Charlie Kaufman to the max. And I love his writing. This is no exception. Anomalisa is a beautifully written story of a man stuck in a monumentally existential and comical rut. A world where everyone is the same. They all sound the same. Until one day he meets someone else. A woman named Lisa. An anomaly. Anomalisa. Someone different. It is a beautiful story of love and pain and the relationship between self and others. And it’s weird. It’s just really badly directed. And Charlie Kaufman is wholly responsible for this as well. In the end I did not like Anomalisa. I didn’t appreciate all the weirdness. There was just too much weird.
Right off the bat you can see that the cast of voice actors is short. There are three. There are many more characters but only three actors playing them. David Thewlis is our hero, the author Michael Stone, Jennifer Jason Leigh is his Anomalisa. And then there’s Tom Noonan, who’s listed in the credits as playing Everyone Else. And he does. Every other character in the film speaks with his voice. Regardless of age or gender. They all sound like Tom Noonan. This is disturbing. But at first it’s really funny and interesting. Less so after a while. And then it just gets creepy.
Anomalisa begins with a conversation on a plane and the general weirdness is comical. What a great idea. To show this bland world and our hero’s relationship to everyone else, Mr. Kaufman makes everyone sound the same. And look the same, in a creepy as hell sort of way. Tom Noonan is an excellent choice here because he has long been one of my favorite artists (actor, director, screenwriter). But not only does everyone sound like Tom Noonan. They’re all assholes. They are all annoyingly passive aggressive.
Every other person has this dickish quality mixed with sardonic wit and sarcastic condescending asides. Like when a married couple has been together too long. They just hate each other but don’t come right out and say it. Everyone else talks to our hero like they’re an annoyed spouse. And it itself is annoying to say the least, but also very funny. Charlie Kaufman is an immensely creative person and talented writer and this idea is amazingly disturbing but successful in relating to the audience the main character’s view of the world and its aggravating sameness. He wants to leave his wife.
And then he meets the girl… Lisa. The only other person in the world. And she is uncomfortable with herself, and with her looks, and her education, and her voice. She hates her voice. But Michael immediately recognizes what he’s found when he hears her in the distance. The sound of her voice resonates through the walls of his hotel room and he runs to track her down. Only to attach himself to her in an awful and needy death grip. But she is self-conscious and self-defeating and she already had a case of hero-worship because he happens to be one of her favorite authors. So they form a duo that is incredibly uncomfortable to watch. But it’s great. It really is.
And Anomalisa would be a fantastic movie if not for directing choices. The animation style. The journeys off into weirdness. He takes off his own jaw at one point for absolutely no reason. He takes his face off. It’s another disturbing breakage of the animated fourth wall. The animation style is puppetry but there is no reason for him to let us know that he knows that he’s a puppet. Instead of the lack of variety in voice actors being a metaphor, it makes it seem like it’s just something he finds himself trapped in. Like he’s trapped in a badly-directed and under-cast animated film. And so are we. And I just wanted to get the fuck out of there. It was no longer enjoyable. Just weird for the sake of being weird.
So in the end Charlie Kaufman takes the idea way too far. He needed a completely separate director. Someone to take his ideas and show them to us with confidence. Not bury them and make them even weirder with weird visuals and weird choices and that Charlie Kaufman claustrophobic weirdness that he’s famous for. And we’re trapped. And he’s trapped. And I’m trapped. And I just don’t want to be stuck in a hole with Charlie Kaufman in a Charlie Kaufman world filled with Charlie Kaufman weirdness.
I just wanted to visit.
Anomalisa is an extremely creative and very interesting idea. It was funny and creepy. And bordered on enjoyable. But then you made it weird, Charlie. You had to make it weird.