October 3, 2022

An existential crisis told with stop motion puppet sex. It’s legitimately great.

An existential crisis told with stop motion puppet sex. It’s legitimately great.

If you’re familiar at all with Charlie Kaufman’s work you probably already know if you want to see Anomalisa. If that name doesn’t ring a bell I’ll just run through his filmography real quick. He became well known after writing Being John Malkovich, went on to write two of my all time favorite movies in Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and then he wrote and directed Synecdoche, New York, a movie that leaves me kind of emotionally cold but is still technically impressive. Kaufman is a writer’s writer and his movies are often about introverted self-reflection and he really likes to play around with form. All of these movies have some weird hook that help him dig into the human psyche in a personal way that he might not be able to get at properly if he conformed to normal storytelling methods. Anomalisa is no different in that regard.

His movies are very different, but also very similar in that if you’ve seen any of those movies and hated them, you can probably skip this one. I love it, it really works for me, but ultimately a Charlie Kaufman movie is a Charlie Kaufman movie and if you know what that is you should know if you want to see this.

That being said, let’s talk about what is here.

Anomalisa tells the story of a man utterly bored with his life. He’s come to Cincinnati to give a lecture about his book, which is all about motivation and increasing productivity in the customer service field. This story is told using high quality, realistic looking stop motion puppets, the goal basically being that if you weren’t paying close attention you could confuse it with live action. Why bother then? Well that’s the hook, every other person our main character, Michael Stone (Played by David Thewlis), meets within the movie speaks with the same voice and has the same face (Played by Tom Noonan).

It’s an effective and creepy gimmick that really gets under your skin and helps you get inside the head of a man utterly bored with his life who feels like everything is the same, and that something is wrong with the world.

This is a small movie, mostly taking place within a hotel, apart from a cab ride from the airport at the beginning. It can also be a little slow as it tries to establish as realistic a tone and pace as it can. It does all this so that it can then break it in meaningful ways, and it works really well.

At a very low point, Michael stares at himself in the mirror and starts to pick at the seam of his lower jaw piece, that all the puppet people very clearly have. He’s just about to tear off his puppet face when he hear a voice in the hallway; a different voice. And so he meets Lisa the one other person who’s different, literally the only character with a different face and a different voice (She’s played by Jennifer Jason Leigh)

The movie goes from there, and it sure goes places. It’s great and I loved it and if this sounds interesting to you you should check it out. I don’t want to say too much more about it here because seeing it as fresh as possible is worthwhile. However, I will say that there is an extended sex scene in the movie, between stop motion puppets mind you, and I think it’s the greatest sex scene I’ve ever seen in a movie; awkward, funny, and intimate in all the right ways. Because of how it’s shot, I’m not actually sure they could have pulled it off, and still gotten an R rating, without puppets.

This isn’t the best Charlie Kaufman movie I’ve seen, but it is for sure great and one of the best movies I saw this year.