Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit viff.org and follow VIFF on Twitter at @viffest.
Kaufman’s first stop-motion film, a high concept animation about the mundanity of existence and the homogeneity of experience, joins his catalogue of thought-provoking psychological dramas. The film focuses on the life of Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis), a motivation speaker whose life has lost energy as he has succumbed to a placid role as father, husband, and worker. Keeping in a subjective viewpoint (until the near end), we experience life the way Michael does: everyone sounds the same and has the same face. His life is mundane and without any sense of joie de vivre. That is until he meets a woman, Lisa, who has a unique face and a unique voice. He falls for Lisa, at one point calling her an anomaly, an anomalisa. But his newfound sense of livelihood and energy is strained when Lisa begins to transform into a pod person, taking on the face and voice of all the other people in Michael’s world.
All this is to say that Anomalisa is one giant metaphor, using the advent of animation to visually convey the psychological phenomenon of becoming comfortable or complacent in relationships. It tracks the experience of meeting and forming a bond, followed by its expected decline of enthusiasm and zest. It depicts Michael as an everyday person who is unable to find meaning in his life. When he believes he has found it, it is soon stripped away.
While the animation is a bit jarring at first, it becomes integral to the story. Stop motion is therefore not merely an aesthetic choice but a function of the film’s development. It is through animation that haunting images such as a group of people with the same face can be rendered on screen. In a particularly mind-bending dream sequence, Michael comes to realize that he and Lisa are the only people in the world, and that everyone else is just a façade. They all have the same face after all. For some time, this theory seems like it could explain the entire film, but it turns out, like everything else, to be a metaphor. In this moment, with Michael falling in love, it is as if he has found the one person in life that exists with him. He has become detached to everyone else, including his family of pod people and his ex girlfriend-now a pod person. And soon enough Lisa will be too.
Throughout the film, there are a lot of standalone one liner jokes. A stop motion dick and awkward sex scenes litter the mise-en-scene. All this humour doesn’t hold very well and, while providing laughs and entertainment, it underserves the film’s psychological context. A highly existential film, the tone wavers between that of ennui and that of comedy, with feelings of ennui being more true to the story. The rest, quite frankly, feels a bit like filler. It is unfortunate: while the concept at hand is highly intriguing, it is also simple. The film doesn’t really need ninety minutes to tell its story, as the concept could have worked well in a short quirky film rather than a feature. It is also a little pandering, as Kaufman goes to unnecessary lengths to ensure the viewer understand his story, his concept, and the origin of the title Anomalisa, all of which is all too obvious to begin with.
The film doesn’t really need ninety minutes to tell its story, as the concept could have worked well in a short quirky film rather than a feature.