Thursday, March 17, 2016

Anomalisa … a confusing film with superb animation exploring an anti-hero’s breakdown (QFT until 31 March)

Anomalisa is the most surreal movie you’ll see all year. Probably the most lifelike stop-motion film you’ll have seen. And definitely the most confusing.

The film begins with an oppressive mêlée of voices, building up to a crescendo. Trapped in a flying metal tube is Michael Stone, a customer service author and guru, flying into Cincinnati to speak at a conference. His life is a disappointment.

Married with a child at home, Michael (voiced by David Thewlis) carries a letter from a lost love in the city. His meeting over a Martini to become reacquainted with Bella doesn’t go to plan. Later in the evening, while trying to straighten himself out from a panic attack, Michael finds good company in hotel guest Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), followed by lust though probably not love. But the encounter disturbs his melancholic disposition.

The puppet-like creatures that inhabit Michael’s world with their fractured mask faces nearly all speak with the same voice – that of Tom Noonan – regardless of gender.

Michael’s perception of those around him is clearly out of sync with reality, perhaps suggestive of a mental breakdown. He struggles with small talk, constantly being misheard and misunderstood. His own body language and lack of awareness is echoed in those around him who often appear to be working and living on autopilot. (The hotel receptionist doesn’t need to look down at the screen or keyboard, yet furiously types and finds Michael a quiet room.)

Haunted by ghosts, his past and his present, hallucinations and reality are more similar than they should. The scene in the hotel manager’s office with the sunken meeting area and the golf buggy had more than a touch of sometime collaborator Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep.

Perhaps one of many flaws in Michael Stone’s worldview is summed up in his one night stand’s choice of song: “Girls just want to have fun”. Anomalisa is rated 15 in the UK: the animation perhaps makes the sex scene at the centre of the middle act of the film more realistic given the less than fabulous but really quite normal bodies portrayed.
“Sometimes there's no lesson. That's a lesson in itself.”

Despite the unique feel and brilliant animation, Anomalisa was a disappointment. Charlie Kaufman's plot remained cryptic for far too long, the opening act drifted, and the surreal elements were all too brief. What could so easily have been a much gossiped about sensation turned out to be a confusing storyline that didn’t live up to much of the hype. Still it is ninety minutes like nothing else you'll watch this year.

Anomalisa is being screened in Queen's Film Theatre between Friday 18 and Thursday 31 March.

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